The silent essential workers keeping Hawaii safe amid the coronavirus pandemic

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON) — They are used to helping with natural disasters but it is the “invisible threat” — COVID-19 — that has proved the most challenging for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HIEMA).

“We bring people together to solve problems. COVID-19 has presented numerous challenges to the state,” said Administrator Luke Meyers.

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Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, marks one year since HIEMA was activated for COVID-19 response efforts. It is the longest-running activation in Hawaii’s history.

HI-EMA headquarters would typically be buzzing with workers during a natural disaster response, brainstorming solutions to keep Hawaii residents safe. Like other industries, however, some work from home while others come to the office to keep essential workers safe.

“It takes a lot of time and effort behind the scenes to manage the data and provide it that’s easily consumable to the average person,” said Meyers.

HIEMA compiles daily Hawaii-specific COVID-19 data to share with the public. Statistics include the number of coronavirus tests taken to the number of the available Intensive Care Unit beds on each island.

“From that information, operational decisions are made by the governors and mayors and state agencies and partners,” Meyers explained.

The Agency also acts as a liaison between local, state and federal agencies and has fought to bring COVID-19 resources to the islands.

“Everyone’s been impacted. Not only on the mainland, but internationally. So when we try to get various resources, we’ve had to compete with those states. One of the biggest challenges in a disaster is logistics and supply chain. Just getting stuff to Hawaii. We know it takes a long time to get groceries here. In this case, we’re getting PPE to our hospitals every day.”

HIEMA managed to secure approximately $81.2 million of federal and state dollars for personal protective equipment. These were given to local hospitals, state agencies, foster homes, elder care facilities, independent medical/dental offices, non-profit organizations, child care facilities and individual small businesses.

It is the largest movement of emergency medical supplies in the state since World War II.

“We’re not first responders. We’re behind the scenes. We usually don’t get an opportunity to directly engage the public. so the work here in HI-EMA has been a tremendous effort by state employees that are really working hard.”

Meyers said, the Agency is now working on setting up a mass vaccination site for the near future.

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