California Congresswoman seeks answers about contact tracing and use of federal funds in Hawaii

A California Congresswoman is seeking answers from Gov. David Ige after Hawaii’s recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

Last week, US Rep. Anna Eshoo, who Chairs the Subcommittee of Health within the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a letter to Ige expressing concern about the increase in COVID-19 cases in Hawaii and calling for “greater clarity” on the status of contact tracing and testing in the state.



“As you know, less than two months ago, Hawaii had the lowest number of COVID-19 cases per capita of any state in the nation. However, this trend has reversed and now Hawaii has the highest infection rate in the United States. From early June through the end of July, your state’s cases more than tripled to 2,111 confirmed infections, and from July 31 through August 14, the state’s cases doubled and now stand at 5,042 positive cases. At the same time, your state has implemented a 14-day travel quarantine for travelers visiting the islands, which suggests that the cause of the recent resurgence of Hawai’i COVID-19 cases is attributable to widespread community transmission,” writes Eshoo.

Eshoo references a whistleblower who came forward earlier this month and described the Health Department as “struggling to keep up” with contact tracing. The whistleblower made these comments during a news conference called by US Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has previously called for the full mobilization of the state’s contact tracing force. Gabbard has also called for the removal of DOH director Dr. Bruce Anderson and chief epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park from their positions due to a shortage of contact tracers in the state.

In the letter, Eshoo notes that Hawaii has received over $50 million in federal funds through the CDC Epidemiology and Lab Capacity Grants program.

This funding, writes Eshoo, was to be used to “develop, purchase, administer, process and analyze COVID-19 tests, scale-up laboratory capacity, trace contacts, support employer testing, and support other testing-related activities, which are essential to containing the virus.”

Eshoo lays out a list of questions to be answered by Ige on or before this Friday. The questions ask for details on the number of contact tracers on staff, the state’s response to whistleblower allegations, and the ways the state has spent federal funding. Eshoo also asks about specific actions the state will take to get testing and contact tracing up to nationally recommended standards, and about oversight and accountability actions that will be implemented to ensure the state reaches key performance indicators.