Gov. David Ige signed Friday an emergency proclamation as a preventive measure against mosquito-borne illnesses that include dengue fever and Zika.
This follows the recent decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to open its emergency operations center at Level 1 to prepare for and mitigate the Zika risk.
“We are doing everything we can to be prepared, to be proactive, to prevent vector-borne diseases here in Hawaii,” Ige said. “Hawaii Emergency Management Agency will be working with all the county mayors and the county civil defense coordinators to ensure that statewide we are ahead of the game and proactive in responding to vector-borne diseases.”
It’s a proactive approach, according to the governor, but with more than 250 cases of dengue fever on Hawaii Island, why wasn’t the announcement made sooner?
“It really wasn’t about waiting. We have been discussing the appropriate time for the emergency declaration since the first case back in October,” said Ige. “We have been talking with Hawaii County to make sure we had the resources.”
Officials say even though cases are fewer and farther between, the battle is not over and state continues to focus resources to break the cycle of dengue fever infection and transmission.
But Sen. Josh Green, D, Kona, Kau, says action should have come sooner.
“I guess the governor had to assess the situation and declare when he was going to pull the trigger, but the truth is people on the Big Island, my constituents, have been asking for extra help for sometime,” Green said.
Now it looks like there will be some extra help.
The emergency proclamation will give the state access to the Major Disaster Fund, the option of waiving certain laws and regulations to expedite the outbreak response if and when needed, as well as pave the way for federal assistance should the state exhaust its resources.
The state previously released the state Health Department from a 5-percent budget restriction ($250,000) to fund costs incurred while responding to the onset of the dengue outbreak.
The state is also releasing the Health Department from another 5-percent restriction ($250,000) to fund eight vector control positions, one entomologist and one communications position.
“As part of the evaluation by the CDC that is one of the recommendations that they had made is that we restore vector programs to each and every county,” said Ige.
A focus has also been placed on Hawaii Island airports, where mosquito repellent dispensers have been added.
“We are well prepared for this. It is just a matter of when an incident does happen, that’s when we will react to it,” said Ford Fuchigami, state Department of Transportation director.
Ige stresses there have been no locally acquired Zika cases in the U.S. or Hawaii, “and we’d like to keep it that way.”