Faulty federal communication to state officials amid coronavirus outbreak


State officials continue working to keep the Coronavirus out of Hawaii, but communication from the federal government has not always been clear, especially when Honolulu’s airport was named as one of the locations nationwide to screen those who recently traveled to China.

When the Center’s for Disease Control and Prevent first announced the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport would begin screening travelers to the rest of the world, it was also the first time state personnel heard about it.

The Public Information Officer for the Department of Transformation, Tim Sakahara, said he first learned about this decision through a press conference.

“When I heard that on the news conference I almost leaped out of my chair,” Sakahara said. “I mean immediately was like that is very big obviously and so that’s why I immediately went to go and just make sure did we know about this and what does this mean?”

What it meant was that the department had to jump into action by sharing the news with the rest of the airport and transportation officials of the moves the federal agencies had already begun.

Sakahara said, “Immediately after there was a meeting with airport leadership, we started to discuss what this meant, the implications and then started to get on the phone with various agencies on all levels to start that coordination.”

Honolulu’s airport began screening those who had traveled to China two days after the announcement was made, but airport staff did not have to start from zero, infrastructure was already in place.

Sakahara said, “We already were one of the 20 airports in the country that had a permanent full time CDC quarantine station at the airport so there’s already federal staff here that were already trained and already looking for infectious diseases.”

He said it would be helpful to have advance notice when it comes to decisions that involve state mobilization. Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz on the other hand criticized the faulty communication from the top.

“The communication with state officials has been very, very poor,” Schatz said. “We have since gotten our arms around this problem, but it was pretty disorganized in terms of the federal response.”

Sakahara said airport personnel continues to screen travelers but numbers have now dwindled since the Trump administration halted travel from people of other nationalities who have traveled to China into the United States.

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