Emails reveal strain over contact tracing during Hawaii’s early days of pandemic

Coronavirus

In this Feb. 14, 2020, file photo Hawaii Gov. David Ige, center, state Health Director Bruce Anderson, left, and state Epidemiologist Sarah Park, right, in Honolulu discuss a tourist who was confirmed with the coronavirus after returning home to Japan. A review of Ige’s emails shows the state epidemiologist spent key weeks in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic resisting suggestions and requests from both inside and outside the administration that she boost contract tracing to control the spread of COVID-19. (AP Photo/Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, File)

HONOLULU (AP) — A review of Hawaii Gov. David Ige’s emails shows the state epidemiologist spent key weeks in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic resisting suggestions and requests that she boost contact tracing to control the spread of COVID-19.

They also showed Dr. Sarah Park repeatedly telling her superiors that the state’s failure to adequately fund the division she headed was preventing her from quickly expanding their work to respond to the crisis.

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The Associated Press obtained the emails last month in response to a May 2020 request submitted under Hawaii’s open records law.

Contact tracing was especially difficult for many states. The effort aims to alert people who may have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus and prevent them from spreading it to others. Health experts say it’s key to containing the virus.

The governor’s records show that University of Hawaii President David Lassner emailed administration officials on April 16, 2020, to say university researchers had written a report about the need to boost contact tracing and other steps to control COVID-19.

Park didn’t outright reject more contact tracing but replied: “I am increasingly disturbed that people seem to think contact tracing is somehow easily accomplished as a simple task when it is a part of the practice of applied epidemiology.”

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