Kokua Council files action with the Hawaii Supreme Court to compel the Department of Health to increase the number of contact tracers in Hawaii
News Release from Kokua Council, Sept 8, 2020
UPDATE Sept 16, 2020 -- SA: Hawaii Supreme Court denies Kokua Council’s request to intervene in DOH contact tracing
HONOLULU September 8, 2020 – Kokua Council files action with the Hawaii Supreme Court to compel the Department of Health to increase the number of contact tracers in Hawaii and to require that translation services to LEP (Limited English Proficiency) persons be provided.
Kokua Council has filed a petition for mandamus with the Supreme Court. A copy of the submission is available for download here: Petition for Mandamus
On Wednesday, September 2, Kokua Council sent a letter to Health Director Bruce Anderson, Attorney General Clare Connors and Governor David Ige stating its demand that the Department of Health commit to act as required by law to protect lives and livelihoods against spread of the coronavirus in Hawaii. A reply was requested by today, September 8, 2020 at 10:00, with the expectation that the DOH would have this information readily at hand. No reply has been received.
Meanwhile, the spread of the virus continues at an alarming rate, with deaths reported daily. Pacific Islanders and the Filipino communities are being hardest hit.
The lack of interpreters and written health information for contacts harms not just the individual but also society at large. We all face greater risk of community spread due to Department of Health inaction.
Kokua Council seeks to compel DOH action via the Court in the face of the drastically increased incidence of outbreaks particularly on Oahu. We can no longer remain silent. The State administration has shown itself to be ineffective in putting in place the required number of contact tracers even though trained personnel are standing by to do the work. The Legislature lacks the power to intervene. So today we asked that the Judiciary act to enforce existing law.
"We do not live in a dictatorship. The Department of Health's failure to act is subject to review and is redressible by court process." said Lance D. Collins, Kokua Council's attorney.
The petition filed today seeks Court intervention in two areas: (1) hiring an adequate number of contact tracers actively doing contact tracing, and (2) hiring an adequate number of interpreters and translators for contact tracing persons.
Kokua Council holds that the state has a legal obligation to conduct contact tracing to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. From the information available to Kokua Council, the state has failed to act, contrary to its legal obligation to do so.
The Governor's Emergency Proclamations mandate: "All persons shall comply with applicable guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as State, county, industry and regulatory requirements for safe practices to mitigate the spread of COVID-19." This mandate to comply with CDC guidance includes the Director of the Department of Health.
The CDC has issued guidance that states that "Case investigation and contact tracing are fundamental activities." It goes on to say that contact tracing "is a core disease control measure that has been employed by public health agency personnel for decades." It requires local health authorities to hire an adequate number of contact tracers.
The National Association of County and City Health Officials estimate that an adequate number of contact tracers for Hawaii's population during the COVID-19 emergency would be 420 contact tracers. Accepting DOH self-reported numbers, Hawaii has 212 contact tracers. Subsequent reports indicate that a number of these contact tracers are in fact doing clerical and other non-contact tracing work.
Both CDC guidance and Hawaii state law require that contact tracing occur in the contact’s primary language and that health information related to limiting the spread of COVID-19 be provided to persons exposed in their primary language. The Department is failing to do both. Pacific Islander and Filipino communities are being hardest hit but the lack of interpreters and written health information for contacts harms not just the individual but all of us who now face greater risk of community spread.
It is predicted that if the spread of the coronavirus is not checked rapidly, hospital ICU capacity will be exceeded. An increase in deaths would be inevitable. Most affected would be older adults, our kupuna, who are the most susceptible to the coronavirus, and members of LEP populations.
In 2016 Kokua Council successfully sued the DOH over its failure to post inspection reports of state-licensed care facilities online as required by a 2013 law. Then, as now, the Department of Health persisted in ignoring a law, putting Hawaii citizens at risk.
Today we face the prospect of waves of lockdowns that threaten the economy, with many business facing permanent shutdowns and residents unable to earn enough to pay for food or for their rent or mortgages. Lockdowns hurt us all, as does the rising toll of illness and deaths. Kokua Council feels that the DOH should be moving as fast as is humanly possible to fulfill its responsibilities—and that the law requires them to do so. Controlling the spread of the virus is key to minimizing the need for future lockdowns.
Kokua Council presented its concerns that the Director was not complying with his mandatory obligations in a letter dated September 2, 2020 but there has been no reply. Accordingly, we have asked our attorney to file our writ of mandamus with the Court today.
KHON: Kokua Council files suit to make state hire more contact tracers
CB: Kokua Council Wants Court To Order DOH To Hire Contact Tracers