Mayor Caldwell and healthcare workers say DOH taking risks by not training more contact tracers

Coronavirus

As Oahu retailers prepare to reopen next Friday, Mayor Kirk Caldwell is raising concerns the state has not taken enough precautions in case there’s another surge.

The mayor says the State Department of Health does not have nearly enough people trained for contact tracing if more people test positive.

The mayor sent a letter that is backed by 80 healthcare professionals to Gov. David Ige, asking him to push the health department to train more contact tracers and to allow the city to do its own testing. He adds that it should be done before opening the economy.

“It’s kind of like building an airplane while you’re flying, highly risky and not recommended,” said Caldwell.

He says national health guidelines call for 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents. So Oahu, with more than a million residents, will need about 400 tracers.

“And if we have visitors, as they used to come here. We’re talking about 500 tracers. And we know that the Department of Health is not even close to having that system in place,” said Caldwell.

The mayor’s letter to the governor asks him to push the health department to train more tracers, saying,

“Expanded contact tracing capacity needs to precede re-opening to prevent explosive outbreaks as we re-open.”

But the health department says it’s already training more people for contact tracing and will have the capacity to trace up to 920 people per day before any surge occurs.

“Nine hundred twenty people a day. That’s as many as we can possibly imagine can happen, given the limits of our health system,” said Dr. Bruce Anderson, DOH director.

DOH is also using new software called HealthSpace so Anderson says the estimates that the mayor is using do not apply in Hawaii.

“We know what we require here in Hawaii, we have technology now that were not considered in those estimates,” said Anderson.

As for the city’s request to do its own testing, Anderson says the state is already doing 1,000 per day. And if needed can do 5,000 a day.

“Capacity in testing is not an issue here. We fortunately have been able to work with the private sector and others here to ramp up to be able to do the testing that we need to do,” said Anderson.

The mayor says he still plans to allow retailers to open next Friday. But he’d feel better if DOH took the extra measures.

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