Ige defends dengue response

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Gov. David Ige on Tuesday defended his response to the ongoing dengue fever outbreak, following criticism from Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard on Friday that included a call for him to declare a state of emergency.

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Gov. David Ige on Tuesday defended his response to the ongoing dengue fever outbreak, following criticism from Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard on Friday that included a call for him to declare a state of emergency.

Meanwhile, Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira said he is “very close” to requesting an emergency declaration, saying it would help in the event another outbreak occurs elsewhere in the state. Also, the state Department of Health revealed it was investigating suspected cases of dengue fever on Maui.

Speaking during a press conference at the Capitol in Honolulu and flanked by Oliveira and Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi, the governor said his team began preparations in November, shortly after the announcement of the outbreak, for an emergency declaration. So far, however, Hawaii County officials have not deemed such a declaration to be necessary.

“Mayor Kenoi and his team on the Big Island have been on it from the first report,” Ige said. “They’ve done a terrific job of engaging the communities and engaging us, and we’ve been cooperating with them from the beginning, providing the resources that they need to ensure that we can respond on behalf of the people.”

Ige pointed out that federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials praised the response, and warned that outbreaks can take months to clear up. He added the state had so far opted to let Hawaii County take the lead on the response.

“In our response plans, the focus really is on ensuring that those closest to the situation have control and really drive the activities,” Ige said. “The County of Hawaii is the incident commander, and they are the ones that really know the communities best, and they are in the best position to make the most important decisions about what the government response should be. I just wanted to reiterate that the state and the federal government is really providing supportive roles to support all of the activities for those people on the front line.”

As the press conference came to a close, he again hammered on that point: “I think, most importantly, the decision to issue an emergency proclamation is one made by professionals in the best interest of what is needed by the community.”

On the issue of requesting further support, Oliveira said Civil Defense might be close to seeking an emergency declaration, which would allow the state to take broader action against the outbreak and potentially gain access to additional resources.

“At the county level, the mayor and I have been discussing this for some time,” he said. “Yes, we’re very close, at least on the county level, to making the request … As was pointed out, it’s not because we don’t have control of the situation or there’s a shortage of any resources currently. We’d like to stay ahead of the response.”

Oliveira said his office’s concern stems from the fact that all of the state’s resources are currently tied up on the Big Island, and if another outbreak were to occur elsewhere, that could make it harder to respond on other islands.

For instance, he said, all of the insecticide sprayers in the state currently are on the island, as well as the Vector Control workers and entomologists who work to monitor and respond to mosquitoes.

“With what’s going on globally with other outbreaks, we’d like to make sure we have adequate resources and processes in place,” he said. “… If there should be an outbreak, or a need to treat properties elsewhere in the state, we would need to relocate some of that equipment, which could leave any one of the counties with a shortage of equipment, so we would like to be ahead of that.”

Such a situation could arise if a current investigation into suspected cases of dengue on Maui triggers a response there, said Keith Kawaoka, deputy director for the Department of Health.

“In the Maui case, we are investigating … to see what the prevalence is … ,” he said. “If we find confirmation, we’ll do the same kind of protocol as we’re doing with the Big Island right now, in terms of surveillance, spraying, etc.”

Later Tuesday, however, a spokeswoman for the governor sent out an emailed statement regarding the Department of Health’s investigation, saying that a single imported case of dengue fever was confirmed on Maui. The patient had a history of travel to Asia, according to the DOH.

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“There are no other cases and no locally acquired cases currently on Maui,” the email said. “Since September 2015, there have been a total of two imported cases on Maui. The state periodically confirms dengue fever in residents who return from traveling abroad, after they have picked up dengue fever in another country. In 2014, there were 14 imported dengue cases in the state.”

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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