Health Department: Leading the way to keep people safe

Posted on Dec 30, 2021 in Capitol Connection, Featured, Main

When it comes to the pandemic, it’s no small thing to say “Lucky you live Hawai‘i.” We still have one of the nation’s lowest COVID-19 mortality rates, a high vaccination rate and a community willing to take precautions to keep people safe. During this time, DOH mobilized a broad pandemic response that’s been called among the best in the country. DOH’s community-based approach continues in the face of new variants like Omicron, with contact tracing and case investigation, isolation and quarantine, public information, testing, and vaccinations.

Mounting a statewide campaign – Over the past year, DOH coordinated 2,061 mobile vaccination events statewide and in-home vaccinations for those unable to travel to a vaccination site. It partnered with the Department of Education and providers to conduct hundreds of school-based clinics when vaccines became available for children. The #HIGotVaccinated campaign also provided incentives from the private sector for people to get their shots. In addition, DOH recognized the need to improve outreach to Native Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander and Filipino groups disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

DOH’s former communications director Janice Okubo (with lei) retires after 30 years of service. With her are (from left) Cathy Ross, deputy director of health; Dr. Libby Char, director of health; Kathleen Ho, deputy director of environmental health administration; and Marian Tsuji, deputy director of behavioral health administration.

DOH’s former communications director Janice Okubo (with lei) retires after 30 years of service. With her are (from left) Cathy Ross, deputy director of health; Dr. Libby Char, director of health; Kathleen Ho, deputy director of environmental health administration; and Marian Tsuji, deputy director of behavioral health administration.

Surviving the Delta surge – During late summer 2021, DOH coordinated a statewide response to ensure that all who needed hospital care were able to get it. That included deploying more than 700 mainland surge staff to Hawai‘i hospitals, coordinating life-saving therapeutics and ensuring the state had ample supply of medical-grade oxygen. The Hawai‘i National Guard also supported state and county efforts, including doing thermal screenings at airports, rapid tests and vaccinations, contact tracing and distribution of PPE. Other DOH divisions continued critical public health services and provided early intervention for families undergoing stress during the pandemic.

Being prepared for Omicron – When it comes to new COVID-19 variants, Governor Ige said the state can apply lessons learned from Delta. But he and DOH director Dr. Libby Char are saying the best actions people can take are to get vaccinated and boosted and to make smart decisions about masking and gathering. “Everyone needs to be vigilant,” said Dr. Char.

For the future: A new $3.7 million project funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will improve access to health information, especially for underserved communities. The project will train and employ high school and undergraduate students to be health and digital navigators in local libraries. The project includes 15 state libraries, including Lānaʻi, Moloka‘i, Hāna, Kihei, Waimea, Princeville, Hanapepe, Pāhoa, North Kohala, Hilo, Wai‘anae, Kahuku, Waimānalo,Wahiawa, and Waipahu.

Read more in the January Capitol Connection newsletter.

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