Video & highlights from “Leadership Series: A Conversation with Lt. Gov. Josh Green, MD”
On Tuesday, Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green, MD, joined State of Reform President DJ Wilson for a one-on-one conversation as part of our new “Leadership Series.” Prior to being elected lieutenant governor in 2018, Green was the Hawaii State Senator from the 3rd district from 2009 to 2018 and Hawaii State Representative for the 6th district from 2005 to 2009.
During the conversation, Green shared his thoughts on the progress Hawaii has made in managing the COVID-19 crisis and provided an update on the economy, re-opening tourism, and preparations to address mental health issues stemming from the pandemic.
In terms of Hawaii’s overall progress, Green says the state has done well in managing the virus. So far, Hawaii has had 819 positive COVID-19 cases, they’ve tested 70,000 individuals, and Hawaii’s positive test rate is 1.16 percent. He also notes that Hawaii has the lowest mortality rate in the nation at 1.2 deaths per 100,000.
“We’ve had on the one hand, thank goodness, an extraordinary public health response where very few people have died and very little spread has occurred,” says Green. “But on the other hand, we’ve had incredible economic consequences.”
Because the state depends so heavily on travel and tourism, the economic consequences have been particularly harsh in Hawaii. The statewide unemployment rate sits at 22.3 percent, says Green, and Maui’s unemployment rate is 36 percent.
Prior to joining the virtual conversation, Green said he was on a call with leadership where they were finalizing the state’s policy on reopening to tourism. Green says the state will employ numerous steps to keep COVID numbers in Hawaii low while still encouraging visitors to travel to the islands.
At the airport, contact tracing data will be collected from travelers. The state will also spend $36 million on thermal screeners which, he says, may decrease COVID cases by 15-20 percent. The state will also take temperatures comprehensively and will require a negative a COVID test 72 hours prior to arrival in Hawaii. They believe this will decrease the number of COVID cases that would otherwise travel to the state by about 70 percent.
“We want to make sure we have a seamless process to bring people back and I believe that with all of those layers of protection we will not see a large surge in Hawaii. I think we will keep our numbers very low and it will probably benefit us long term because it will maintain the reputation of Hawaii,” says Green.
Green also described the mental health challenges facing Hawaii during the conversation. Prior to the pandemic, Green said the state was struggling to adequately fund behavioral health programs and to bring enough resources to Neighbor Island providers. But funding is more at risk now that the state is facing a $1 billion shortfall and there is an expected 15-20 percent surge in Medicaid enrollment on the horizon.
“The goal at the present is to fully fund all operations and as many contracts as possible, maybe all of them, by borrowing a billion dollars from the federal government and paying it back over 3 years,” says Green. “That obviously negates a lot of the ambitious programs that we had hoped to do.”
Green says there will, however, be added capacity due to telehealth.
Lt. Gov. Green’s full remarks are available above.