Gabbard blasts Ige on dengue response

Congresswoman: Emergency proclamation from governor long overdue

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii
Photo courtesy Tulsi Gabbard’s Office

By COLIN M. STEWART
Staff Writer
Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Gov. David Ige didn’t budge Friday afternoon after U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) called for him to declare a state of emergency in response to Hawaii Island’s ongoing dengue fever outbreak.

Spokeswoman Cindy McMillan told the Tribune-Herald he “continues to work with the county to stamp out the fever,” but that no additional measures were planned at the time.

Ige’s response, or lack thereof, came a few hours after Gabbard issued a statement Friday criticizing his response to the outbreak and calling on him to dedicate more resources to the effort to slow the spread of the mosquito-borne virus. 

“The denguefever outbreak on the Big Island continues to worsen. We cannot afford to wait any longer for the aggressive action necessary to combat the spread of this serious disease,” she said in the statement. 

“An emergency proclamation from the governor is long overdue. There have already been 242 confirmed cases of dengue fever on Hawaii Island, creating a public health emergency affecting our residents and visitors, and Hawaii Island’s economy. They deserve our state’s full attention and resources to do what it takes to put an end to this outbreak and prevent it from becoming endemic and spreading to other parts of the island and state.” 

We cannot afford to wait any longer for the aggressive action necessary to combat the spread of this serious disease

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii

The congresswoman requested Ige deploy state resources, including the Hawaii National Guard, to assist with mosquito abatement, public information and providing “completely free testing for those with suspected symptoms of this incurable disease.” 

She also called for the governor to appoint a “Dengue Czar,” who would oversee and coordinate response efforts by various agencies and the public. 

Gabbard pointed out that the exposure rate for dengue on Hawaii Island had climbed from one in 185,079 people Oct. 21 to one in 849 residents, as well as three out of every 50,000 visitors. 

“This constitutes an average infection rate of 67 residents and seven visitors every month since this outbreak began,” according to the statement. “Additionally, the same mosquito that carries dengue fever is also a carrier of the Zika virus, which is ‘spreading explosively,’ according to U.N. health officials, who are currently considering declaring an international health emergency.” 

In a phone interview late Friday afternoon, Gabbard said she had not yet been notified by the governor’s office about his decision to not proclaim an emergency for the state. 

“My hope, and my purpose for making a public plea is that he will hear the voices,” she said. “The very frustrated, passionate and even some angry voices of the residents of Hawaii Island in some of these hard-hit communities who are really pleading for help. Those pleas are warranted and this help is urgently needed and long overdue.” 

She added that her decision was informed by a visit to the Big Island last Friday, when she met with state and county officials respond- ing to the outbreak. She also was swayed by
a strong social media campaign organized by community leaders on sites such as the Hawaii Dengue Fever Awareness group on Facebook. 

Gabbard’s call was applauded by two Big Island lawmakers who called for almost exactly the same response months ago. 

“I think it’s becoming clear to more people we can’t afford to let the outbreak go on much longer or let it spread to the other islands,” said state Sen. Josh Green 

(D-Kona) who, along with state Rep. Richard Creagan (D-Naalehu) took the state Department of Health to task last fall, calling the department’s response to the out- break tepid, and calling for emergency funds, military involvement, direct involvement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, free and mobile testing labs and other measures. 

“I appreciate Rep. Gabbard coming in with all guns blazing,” Green said. “I think the combination of dengue and the eruption of the Zika virus is scary. It shouldn’t be lost on people that Brazil is using its military to fight Zika.” 

‘I think it’s becoming clear to more people we can’t afford to let the outbreak go on much longer or let it spread to the other islands.’

State Sen. Josh Green, D-Kohala, Kona

In Senate Bill 2465 this session, Green is seeking an audit of the DOH response to the outbreak and $500,000 for dengue control efforts. 

Creagan said emergency funds could be used to buy more mosquito traps and to immediately train more Vector Control workers rather than waiting for the passage of bills introduced this session for the same purpose. 

“The emergency declaration would free up money that could be used immediately,” he said. 

Gabbard’s recommendations to Ige also included: 

  • Allocation of resources to the state Department of Health to launch a “comprehensive public information and public engagement campaign. Current ‘Fight the Bite’ efforts fall far short of providing residents and visitors with the information they need.” 
  • A full-time entomologist on Hawaii Island dedicated to eradication, reduction and prevention of further spread of the dengue virus. 
  • Allocation of resources to hire Vector Control personnel, and to purchase equipment and supplies to augment insecticide spraying. 
  • And free supply and distribution of mosquito traps. 

Tribune-Herald Staff Writer Tom Callis and West Hawaii Today Staff Writer Bret Yager contributed to this report. 

Click here for a PDF of the original newspaper story.

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