Maui News

Hawaiʻi Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 Updated by Department of Health Leadership

December 9, 2020, 11:02 AM HST
* Updated December 9, 11:15 AM
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Dr. Libby Char. File Photo Courtesy: Office of Governor David Ige / State of Hawai’i.

Dr. Libby Char, Director of the Hawaiʻi Department of Health, updated the Hawaiʻi State Senate Special Committee during a recent hearing about prevention and containment of COVID-19 clusters, vaccine distribution, the Safe Travel Program, and the new Center for Disease Control’s recommendations regarding second tests for travelers and shorter quarantines.

Dr. Emily Roberson (Disease Investigation Branch Chief) and Dr. Sara Kemble (Deputy State Epidemiologist) also participated in the update.

DOH said its current priorities include preparing for the distribution of the vaccine; continuing public education; encouraging provider engagement, strategic investigation, contact tracing and monitoring; and focusing on a whole-of-community response.

The State’s Plan to Distribute Vaccines 

Dr. Char reported that DOH is currently working on the plan to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. “Tier 1 employees,” or front-line health care workers, will be the first to receive the vaccine.

Dr. Char noted the following challenges of the distribution plan:

  • The vaccine is fragile and requires specific cold storage. It is possible there is not enough cold storage in the State.  The DOH is examining how much adequate cold storage is in the State and how to acquire more cold storage or dry ice.
  • The details of acquiring the vaccine are not clear. There are multiple vaccine manufacturers, but none has yet been approved for distribution.  DOH does not know which type of vaccine or how many doses of each the State will receive.
  • Stakeholders across the State, including federally qualified health centers (FQHC), have been engaged and are discussing the distribution of the vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Recommendation of a Second Test 

The CDC updated its guidance for travel, recommending that travelers take a pre-flight test (1 to 3 days before flying) and a second test (3 to 5 days after arrival). It recommended staying home for seven days even if the traveler tested negative.  According to the guidance, the safest course of action is staying home for at least 10 days after travel.

Members of the Committee asked DOH for its position on the new recommendations. DOH stated it recommend following the CDC’s guidance and always has recommended two tests; however, the department’s role is only to make recommendations regarding health to the administration, and the ultimate policy decision lies with the others in the administration

The CDC’s Recommendation of Shortening Quarantine 

The Committee also had many questions regarding the CDC’s updated guidance that shortens the recommended quarantine period from 14 to 10 days for persons exposed to a positive COVID-19 case. DOH emphasized that CDC’s guidance only applies to medical quarantine for people who have been exposed to COVID-19.

Committee members questioned why this policy did not also apply to travelers who have not definitively been exposed to COVID-19.  DOH responded that travel policy will be reexamined, but that the 14-day quarantine for persons arriving in the State is part of the Governor’s emergency orders.  The department stated they will make recommendations to the Governor for the next emergency order.

“In light of the CDC’s recent guidance recommending a second test for travelers and a shortened medical quarantine, the committee strongly believes that these recommendations need to be reflected in the State’s COVID-19 response policies,” said Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chair of the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19. “We also appreciate DOH’s hard work in working with the medical community to draft a distribution plan for the coronavirus vaccine and this committee stands ready to assist with these efforts.

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