Inouye in isolation; Big Isle senators react after Nishihara tests positive for COVID-19

  • INOUYE

  • NISHIHARA

State Sen. Lorraine Inouye of Hilo said she was tested Thursday for the COVID-19 coronavirus and will remain in isolation in Honolulu until she receives the test results.

Inouye, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said the tests were requested after she received the news that Sen. Clarence Nishihara, chairman of the Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs, tested positive for the potentially deadly virus.

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“I have hearings with him because some of the legislation (concerns) his committee and mine, anything to do with public safety and our transportation bills,” Inouye said. “And his office is two doors down from me.”

“I’m concerned because I have family back home and some of them are not in perfect health,” she added. Inouye, 78, added she has no symptoms and is “very healthy.”

She said she continues to work on committee reports on pending legislation from her Honolulu condo.

Senate President Ronald Kouchi and House Speaker Scott Saiki ordered all legislative offices to close after Nishihara’s positive test.

Kouchi said Nishihara, a 76-year-old Leeward Oahu Democrat, had traveled to Las Vegas at the end of February, and Nishihara later confirmed that.

“We’re going through the contacts,” Kouchi said. “Anybody who had close contacts and is having symptoms … should start making arrangements for getting tested. And then, we’re trying to find out what would be the next steps forward.

“Obviously, for members of the Senate, being in the caucuses and floor sessions, we come into close contact. And as the leader of the Senate, I am concerned for each one of our members and employees, and everyone has had interactions, and that’s why we’re taking all the precautions we can to be sure they continue to be safe and also in case someone else may have gotten infected. We don’t want members of the public coming into the building and we don’t want to jeopardize their health, as well.”

Kouchi said even though the session is in recess and no one is in the legislative offices, work continues on pending legislation.

“Luckily, we have laptops and smartphones and some of us have home computers,” he said. “But there’s no one in the building until we get clearance from Department of Health as to … when would be appropriate to return to work.”

Sen. Russell Ruderman of Puna said he doesn’t think he’s worked closely enough with Nishihara recently to be overly concerned about direct exposure to himself.

“I hope he’s OK,” Ruderman said. “Obviously, I’m very concerned about my staff. And my staff is likewise concerned, because they bounce in and out of each other’s offices all of the time getting papers signed and stuff, you know.

“So we all share a heightened concern because of that.”

Ruderman said he’s at home with his family.

Sen. Dru Kanuha of Kona said he’s “concerned about possible transmission not only to myself, but the rest of the Senate and any other members of the public who may have come to the capitol” building.

“I don’t know the rate of transmission, myself, or what constitutes transmission,” Kanuha said. “… I definitely am glad we closed the offices at the Capitol and instituted a work-at-home policy we’ve been preparing for the last couple of weeks.”

Kanuha said he doesn’t know if he has been in close contact with Nishihara, “but we were all together on the floor.” He added he is following the advice of health care professionals to practice social distancing.

“I’m currently … at home and staying away from people and within the next couple of days, if I do have any symptoms, then I’m going to call my (primary care physician) and see if I can get a test,” Kanuha said. “I really think that we should be enacting greater policies to protect people on every single island. And I hope the mayor and the governor will do so.”

Sen. Kai Kahele of Hilo, who’s running for the second Hawaii congressional district seat held by U.S Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, said he’s “worked alongside Sen. Nishihara” the past couple of weeks.

“His office is actually right next to my office,” Kahele said. “As of just a few days ago, Monday, I think it was, we were all there together,” Kahele said. “So it’s a little bit concerning for me, because it’s finally hit home. And I have a wife and young kids and a mom that I take care of, and my sister and her kids and all of the people that I interacted with, just in the last week.”

“How can you self quarantine at home when you live at home with your kids?” he asked, rhetorically.

Kahele said he’s also concerned about the possibility of the virus spreading “exponentially” and an accompanying economic collapse.

“It’s never hit us from every different angle that it’s coming at us from,” he said. “Airlines collapsing, hotels collapsing, small businesses closing, health care facilities being overwhelmed — a record amount of people filing for unemployment, companies that can’t make payroll. That’s what we’re experiencing right now. And it’s coming at us at lightning speed, and we’re not prepared for it.

“The most important thing that government can do, and it starts with President (Donald) Trump, it starts with Gov. (David) Ige and it starts with Mayor (Harry) Kim is that their message has to be consistent. It has to be reliable. It has to inspire confidence.

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“And frankly, that’s not what we’re seeing right now.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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