Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Gov Announces New Leadership in State Response to COVID-19

September 17, 2020, 7:30 AM HST
* Updated September 17, 7:25 AM
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From left to right: Virginia Pressler, Laulima Alliance; Libby Char, director, DOH; Gov. David Ige; Maj. Gen. Ken Hara, director, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency; and Lt. Gov. Josh Green

Gov. David Ige announced, Wednesday afternoon, new leadership that will oversee the state’s public health response to COVID-19 and the pre-travel testing program, which starts Oct. 15.

“This new leadership team gives us a stronger operational structure, stronger leadership, and clears the way for stronger partnerships between the public and private sectors,” Ige said.

Hawai‘i Department of Health’s Director Bruce Anderson resigned and State Epidemiologist Sarah Park has taken a leave of absence after severe criticism over their handling of the coronavirus crisis and the contact tracing program.

Dr. Libby Char will replace Anderson.

“I’m joining the State Department of Health at a time when our focus on public health is at a critical point,” Char said. “My top priority is to safeguard the health of our residents. The state doesn’t have the resources for all its needs in fighting COVID-19. No state does. That’s why it’s important for us to work hand in hand with government, private healthcare partners and the community to respond to the pandemic.”

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Lt. Gov. Josh Green will spearhead the pre-travel testing program, which includes adding partners to administer the tests and sourcing new testing options and is also responsible for planning the state’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy.

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Pre-travel testing enables travelers to avoid a mandatory 14-day quarantine if they are tested no earlier than 72 hours before their flight arrives with an FDA-approved nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), performed using a nasal swab, and can show proof of negative test results from a CLIA certified laboratory.

Travelers also will have their temperatures checked upon arrival and must fill out a travel and health form. Upon arrival in Hawai‘i, passengers unable to provide proof of an approved negative test will be required to go into quarantine for 14 days or until they can provide proof of negative test results.

“Mass testing, contact tracing, and pre-travel testing programs are key measures I’ve long supported. Their implementation, along with a vaccination plan for when they become available, will be critical to our success in managing the coronavirus,” Green said. “Maj. Gen. Hara and director Char are excellent leaders and I look forward to working with them in this capacity.”

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Dr. Virginia Pressler, former director of the DOH, has volunteered to lead the Laulima Alliance, a cross-functional team of public and private sector resources, ensuring that all have a voice in policymaking and implementation of programs responding to the pandemic.

“The COVID pandemic has touched every part of our communities – healthcare, housing, tourism, businesses of all sizes, education and government,” Pressler said. “Effective responses to COVID must be cross-industry and involve public and private partners. I look forward to collaborating with leaders from these areas so we can meet the challenges of this pandemic head-on and implement solutions that will help put us on the road to recovery.”

Maj. Gen. Ken Hara, director, Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency, continues his role as incident commander, spearheading the collaboration between federal, state and county resources to address the pandemic response.

“Together with the progress we’ve made, and continue to make, in the fight against COVID-19, this new leadership team gives us confidence that the time is right to launch our pre-travel COVID-19 testing program, which is an important step toward reviving our economy while continuing to protect public health,” Ige said.

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