HONOLULU — The Hawaii National Guard has received approval for an extension of federal funds to continue assisting the state’s coronavirus response through March.
The funding for National Guard units in Hawaii and 47 other states was scheduled to expire at the end of the month, but was extended Thursday, Hawaii Public Radio reported.
“The Hawaii situation is not unique,” Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Case said. “But it’s especially acute here in Hawaii because of all of the roles that we’re asking the Guard to play.”
About 800 Hawaii National Guard members work daily throughout the state on tasks related to virus mitigation including contact tracing, testing and the state’s incoming traveler program.
The Guard’s activities cost about $8.5 million monthly, with the federal government providing 75 percent of the funds. Hawaii pays about $2 million per month.
Brig. Gen. Moses Kaoiwi, the Hawaii National Guard Task Force commander, said some of the tasks would be better secured with long-term contracts, such as the Guard’s involvement in the state’s safe travels program for incoming visitors.
Guard personnel screen some tests processed through the program’s website and ensure they have been conducted through valid partner organizations, Kaoiwi said.
“That’s a big thing at this point that we could probably, if need be, have an outside agency do or contract that out,” Kaoiwi said.
The Guard soon may take on the additional role of assisting with vaccine distribution, Case said.
“The Guard is critical to the district distribution here in Hawaii, not just the receipt of it, but the distribution across Hawaii itself,” Case said.
The Guard will be prepared to assist according to plans formulated by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and the state Department of Health, Kaoiwi said.
“We’re good for distribution, transportation, traffic control and maybe security. If we get the mission, we’ll apply what we already know concerning how to do those things to the situation,” Kaoiwi said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.