State House moves to create committee on COVID-19

The state House of Representatives approved a resolution Tuesday to create a committee on COVID-19, the coronavirus that in the midst of a global outbreak.

House Speaker Scott Saiki introduced House Resolution 54 to bring together representatives from local and state government, private industry and nonprofit agencies and organizations to report back to the House on steps needed to be prepared for the financial effects of an outbreak.

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The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” and recently raised its prediction of the global spread of the virus to “very high.” And on Jan. 31, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary declared a national public health emergency to aid the nation’s health care community in responding to COVID-19.

According to the resolution, COVID-19 could deeply impact Hawaii’s economy due to the state’s proximity to Asia and reliance on the tourism industry and imported goods.

Both the Honolulu Festival and the Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture, which bring thousands of participants to the state, have been cancelled or postponed due to coronavirus concerns.

In addition, pop music superstar Mariah Carey has postponed a concert scheduled for March 10 at the Neal Blaisdell Center Arena in Honolulu to Nov. 28.

The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism has reported a 7.3% drop in international passengers in February and has estimated a loss of more than $23 million in visitor expenditures.

The resolution notes that during the recession of 2008, the state was faced with a $2.1 billion budgetary shortfall, forcing government to reduce the school week to four days, cut millions of dollars from social programs, and reduce public employee salaries by 5%.

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The committee will identify potential economic and financial impacts to the state and develop short-term and long-term mitigation plans so that these types of cuts can be avoided.

Saiki will appoint the committee’s chair and its members.

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