Inouye negative for virus, says Senate president arranged testing of asymptomatic senators

  • INOUYE

State Sen. Lorraine Inouye of Hilo said she tested negative for the COVID-19 coronavirus and has returned home to Hilo.

Inouye told the Tribune-Herald on Sunday that she received numerous calls, emails and texts from people concerned about her health, and is grateful. She said she was tested Thursday, despite being asymptomatic, and went into self-isolation in Honolulu until she received word of her negative test for the potentially deadly virus.

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“I get to stay home with my husband, who’s been very patient,” Inouye said.

There is a scarcity of test kits for COVID-19, locally and nationally, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Hawaii Department of Health guidelines advise that apparently healthy individuals who show no symptoms of the virus shouldn’t be tested — even if they are known to have been in contact with an infected individual.

Inouye, who chairs the Transportation Committee, said Senate President Ronald Kouchi brought a private physician into the state Capitol on Thursday to test her, Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chairman of the Ways and Means committee, and others, including Kouchi.

The testing occurred after Sen. Clarence Nishihara, chairman of the Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee, disclosed that he tested positive after displaying symptoms of illness following a late February trip to Las Vegas.

Inouye said Kouchi made the announcement during a meeting of the Ways and Means Committee, of which she’s a member.

“Because of our close contact, working with the senator, on (the news of) his positive test, the concern was there were too many of us who could be infected,” Inouye said. She added the physician was brought in for the tests “at the urging of (Kouchi) and the Department of Health.”

“Most of the senators who were in town did get the test,” she said. “Sens. Kahele, Kanuha and Ruderman already left Honolulu. I was the only Big Island senator that remained in Honolulu.”

Inouye said tests of the senators she’s aware of “came back negative, like me.” She added she’s ready to “continue the people’s work.”

Neither Kouchi nor the DOH, through its COVID-19 media email address, responded to questions by the Tribune-Herald in time for this story.

Questions for DOH included whether the state agency actually did urge the testing while telling the public to not seek testing unless individuals show symptoms.

Questions for Kouchi included whether he facilitated the testing of himself, Inouye and the others despite what CDC and DOH are telling the public — and whether he thinks asymptomatic elected officials are entitled to testing unavailable to ordinary citizens exposed to the virus who show no symptoms of illness.

A DOH media release on Monday stated, “Individuals who are not experiencing systems do not need to be tested.” DOH strongly urges public health and health care professionals to prioritize testing among three specific groups:

• Health care workers and first responders with COVID-19 symptoms.

• Older Americans who have symptoms of COVID-19, especially those living in congregate settings.

• Individuals who might have other illnesses that would be treated differently if they were infected with COVID-19, and therefore physician judgment is especially important.

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“Other people with mild illness should help protect our most vulnerable and conserve our precious supplies by practicing social distancing measures, monitoring their illness and calling their health care provider if their symptoms worsen or persist,” the release said.

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

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