5 Things Hawaii: Q&A w/Beth Giesting, Special session series, Kealoha Fox

This is hard. Staying at home is hard. Distance learning is hard. Watching businesses collapse is hard. Watching loved ones get sick is hard. None of this is easy. We are going through a collective trauma together. It’ll reshape our society, our commerce and our politics.

But, right now, when we’re going through it, we might try to give ourselves a little grace. None of us are at the top of our game. We’re not working from home. We’re at home… trying to work. So, if you’re having a tough time (as seems to happen a few times during my day), go for a walk. Take a nap. Cut back on the caffeine as it can up your anxiety.

And, if you need to, feel free to send me a note to tell me how you’re doing. I may not have anything smart to say, but I’ll read it and I’ll see you.





With help from Emily Boerger

1. Q&A: Beth Giesting

Beth Giesting is the Director of the Hawai’i Budget & Policy Center. In a recent blog post titled “Avoid public sector cuts at all costs during a recession,” Giesting spoke out against Gov. Ige’s proposal to cut state workers’ salaries by 20% due to the state revenue shortfalls stemming from COVID-19.

Reporter Emily Boerger followed up with Giesting for a Q&A on the potential impacts of Gov. Ige’s proposal and the actions she recommends to better support the state economy. “It is a pretty-well accepted principle that government has to spend money to restore the economy when the private sector is paralyzed,” says Giesting. “A 20% cut to state worker salaries would amount to about $700 million, but the multiplied effects would be 1.5 times that due to reducing workers’ ability to spend money and circulate it through the community.”

2. Series: Health policy in the special session

While the last day of session is tomorrow, it’s clear the fiscal impacts of COVID on the state budget won’t be fully understood until later this summer. I expect we’ll see a special session in a few months to start plugging holes in the budget. Pre-COVID talking points won’t be enough in the “new normal” – either for fiscal matters or policy.

So, in this new series titled “The Special Session,” we explore ideas for a post-COVID health system and how policy makers might support a new model for care. These are “think pieces” to support your creative brainstorming, not our advocacy positions.

Current posts discuss reinsurance, funding and executing a serological study, and reconsidering hospital and community funding models. While we frame this series around the potential upcoming special session, the reality is that significant change will take an electoral mandate, strong stakeholdering, and a willingness of advocates to move from “playing defense” to working to shape a version of that “new normal.”


3. Testing & contact tracing

Hawaii’s ability to test large segments of the population and put in place a contact tracing system is driving decisions about re-opening the economy. During the most recent COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness committee meeting, HMSA CEO Dr. Mark Mugiishi said Hawaii is currently at the “orange alert level,” meaning the state is ready for some businesses to reopen if screening, testing, and tracking measures continue.

In his latest column, State of Reform columnist Jim Capretta takes up the topic of federal support by breaking down Congress’ $25 billion investment into testing and tracing as part of the latest round of COVID emergency funding. Of that funding, $11 billion will go to states, territories, and tribes to acquire tests and hire contact tracers; $1 billion will go to the CDC to broaden and modernize its surveillance capacities; and $1.8 billion is slated for NIH to speed research on accurate serologic and point-of-care testing kits.

4. Video: Kealoha Fox, AlohaCare

Kealoha Fox, PhD is the Native Hawaiian Cultural Liaison at AlohaCare where she oversees the health plan’s partnerships and initiatives to enhance care for Native Hawaiian members. She joins us in this edition of “What They’re Watching” to discuss health equity in Hawaii.

“One of the first things that I’m working on is to build a really strategic approach to internal collaboration and external partnerships around how do we better serve and how do we better support the Native Hawaiian community… Under our plan, the majority of our Native Hawaiian patients are women, infants, and children. So, not only do we get to talk about, you know, racial and ethnic health disparities, but we also get to talk about social justice and how that’s related to the determinants of health.”


5. Lt. Gov. Green’s leadership during COVID

Lt. Gov. Josh Green has been a consistent and reliable voice of leadersip during this public health emergency. His daily Facebook videos, where he reviews Hawaii’s current COVID statistics, have become a go-to source of information for those looking for quick facts. They are also becoming something of a pop culture phenomenon on social media as folks start to make their own edits to the LG’s videos.

To break up what seems like a constant stream of worrying news, we thought we’d highlight a couple of Green’s videos that brought smiles to our faces. There’s this “May the 4th” edition, where Darth Vader and Yoda make an appearance. Or, there’s this one where Green summed up the confusion around some COVID mandate rules with a simple “WTF.”