Schatz, Senate Democrats Urge President Obama To Take Robust & Aggressive Actions to Address the Spread of Zika Virus – Comments on Dengue Fever Outbreak

U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) joined 45 Senate Democrats today and released a new letter to President Obama urging a coordinated interagency response plan to address the spread of the Zika virus both at home and abroad.

Mosquito Bite

“As the dengue outbreak continues to impact communities on Hawai‘i Island, we need more aggressive action to contain it and to stop the threat of Zika, another mosquito-borne virus that is devastating dozens of countries around the world,” said Senator Schatz. “By increasing funding for critical government research and response programs, we can make real progress toward mitigating the impact of the Zika virus abroad and preventing its spread to Hawai‘i and the United States.”

The letter calls for the President to take a number of new actions, including taking the Zika virus into consideration as the Administration coordinates, and allocates resources in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY16, and moves forward with the President’s upcoming FY17 budget request, or subsequent amendments. Additionally, Senate Democrats are urging President Obama to:

  • Develop a coordinated interagency response plan to address the Zika virus both at home and abroad;
  • Direct USAID and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to identify key gaps in the international and country-level response in order to best inform our response plan and disseminate, where appropriate, at border crossings and airports;
  • Ensure that federal agencies work with state and local partners to develop a cohesive national strategy for the monitoring, identification, and reporting of domestic Zika infections;
  • Direct HHS and the Department of Homeland Security to develop educational materials to inform travelers regarding the risk of Zika virus exposure;
  • Ramp up research efforts, including at the National Institutes of Health, to better understand the link between the Zika virus, microcephaly, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and other public health impacts and accelerate rapid diagnostic and vaccine development; and
  • Encourage federal agencies to coordinate, collaborate, or share information with their international counterparts.

The Zika Virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti species of mosquitoes, which are also found in the United States. For most, the symptoms of Zika are mild, but when pregnant women become infected, the effects can be devastating. Zika has been linked to microcephaly in developing fetuses, which can lead to below-average head size, developmental difficulties, and brain damage.

The full text of the Senate Democrats’ letter is below:

Dear President Obama:

The ongoing outbreak of the Zika virus requires an urgent and aggressive response from the United States. We are writing to urge you to develop a coordinated interagency response plan to address the spread of the Zika virus both at home and abroad, and protect pregnant women and children. We also recognize that much is still unknown about the Zika virus, and therefore urge you to consider the potential impact the Zika virus will have on the funding needs of the Emerging Pandemic Threats (EPT) Program at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Services Mosquito and Fly Research Unit, and other key programs in Fiscal Year (FY)17. We believe that a well-coordinated interagency response plan, coupled with strong investments in our research and response programs, is critical to addressing the Zika virus.

The Zika virus is transmitted via bites from the same kind of mosquitoes that carry dengue fever, chikungunya, and yellow fever. For most, the symptoms of Zika are mild, but when pregnant women become infected, there is early evidence its effects can be devastating. Zika has been linked to microcephaly in developing fetuses, which can lead to below-average head size, developmental difficulties, and brain damage. Scientists are also evaluating a possible link between the Zika virus and Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare condition that can cause muscle weakness and paralysis. These potential impacts have spurred the World Health Organization to declare the rise in Zika-linked birth defects and neurological conditions a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

In the Americas, it is anticipated that the outbreak could infect up to 4 million people. Because Zika is carried by low-moisture dwelling mosquitos, local transmission is predicted to spread to all countries and territories where the Aedes aegypti is found, including the United States. There is a critical and urgent need for a robust and coordinated response at all levels of government, and it is necessary to enhance efforts to control outbreaks, counter the spread of the disease, and ultimately reduce the potential for outbreaks in the United States.

Investing in the effort to combat the Zika virus abroad is one of the most important things we can do to prevent widespread transmission of the virus at home. The USAID’s EPT Program helps developing countries prevent, detect, and control the outbreak of infectious diseases. The program has been able to successfully use the technical expertise of the CDC in African, Asian, and Latin American countries to combat infectious diseases like Zika. CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID) further works to protect against the spread of diseases like the Zika virus both at home and abroad, while USDA’s Agricultural Research Services Mosquito and Fly Research Unit also plays a critical role in developing better means of mosquito detection, monitoring, and control.

We urge you to take the Zika virus into consideration as you coordinate and allocate resources in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY16 and move forward with your upcoming FY17 budget request or subsequent amendments.

At this time, it is also critically important that we take additional steps to respond to the ongoing outbreak and work to prevent additional cases of Zika from occurring in the United States. To meet this challenge we urge you to:

  • Develop a coordinated interagency response plan to address the Zika virus both at home and abroad;
  • Direct USAID and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to identify key gaps in the international and country-level response in order to best inform our response plan and disseminate, where appropriate, at border crossings and airports;
  • Ensure that federal agencies work with state and local partners to develop a cohesive national strategy for the monitoring, identification, and reporting of domestic Zika infections;
  • Direct HHS and the Department of Homeland Security to develop educational materials to inform travelers regarding the risk of Zika virus exposure;
  • Ramp up research efforts, including at the National Institutes of Health, to better understand the link between the Zika virus, microcephaly, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and other public health impacts and accelerate rapid diagnostic and vaccine development; and
  • Encourage federal agencies to coordinate, collaborate, or share information with their international counterparts.

By taking action now, we can make significant progress toward mitigating the impact of the Zika virus abroad and reduce the potential for Zika virus outbreaks in the United States. Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Free Chinese New Year Event at The Shops at Mauna Lani

The Shops at Mauna Lani invites the community to its third annual Fortune Festival on Friday, February 19, 5-8 p.m. To ring in the Year of the Monkey, the colorful Lion Dancers of Big Island Shaolin Arts will perform, and participants can “feed” the lions with  red lai envelopes for new year’s blessings.

Lion Dance

Other highlights include martial arts performances, fire blowing, I Ching fortune telling, relaxing Chinese acupressure, and a Chinese Dragon display where visitors can pose for photos. In addition, the shopping center will offer a good luck “Hang Sau Zung Grab Bag” and various Chinese New Year sales at participating locations.

A variety of foods will be available for purchase during the festival including Chinese chicken salad, Dragon Bowls and Chinese snacks to support Hālau Manaola, plus favorite local flavors from Miranda’s Malasadas, Kona Ice Truck, specialty hot dogs from Kona Dogs, and more.

The Fortune Festival at The Shops at Mauna Lani is free, and all are welcome. Additional event parking will be available with continuous shuttle service during the event. For more information, visit www.shopsatmaunalani.com, or call (808) 885-9501.

Flags to Fly at Half-Staff in Honor of Hawaii State Senator Gilbert Kahele

As a mark of respect for the late Hawai’i State Senator Gilbert Kahele, Gov. David Ige has ordered the flags of the United States and State of Hawai‘i shall be flown at half-staff at all state offices and agencies, as well as the Hawai‘i National Guard, from sunrise to sunset on Monday, February 8, 2016.

Hawaii Flag Half Staff

“Senator Kahele was a dedicated public servant who spent the last few years working for the good of his beloved community at the Hawai‘i State Legislature. He was a respected and influential leader both in the legislature and in his hometown community of Hilo. On behalf of the people of Hawai‘i, I extend our heartfelt condolences to the Kahele ‘ohana,” said Gov. Ige.

Sen. Kahele grew up in the fishing village of Miloli‘i on Hawai‘i Island and graduated from Hilo High School. He enlisted and served in the U.S. Marines and worked for the Hawai‘i Department of Defense for more than three decades.

Kahele was appointed to the Hawai‘i State Senate in 2011 by former Gov. Neil Abercrombie. He served as chairman of the Tourism and International Affairs Committee.

Kahele worked to strengthen Hilo’s economy and was instrumental in obtaining funding to build the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. He was also a staunch supporter of the School of Aviation at Hilo International Airport.

Previously, Kahele served as chairman of the Hawai‘i County Police Commission and vice chairman of the Democratic Party for East Hawai‘i.

Note: Flag orders are issued to coincide with the day of the memorial service.

Commentary – Shocked that Judge Acquitted TMT Protestors

TMT Hearing

TMT Hearing held at University of Hawaii Hilo

I’m utterly shocked that Judge Takase acquitted several Thirty Meter Telescope protesters of obstruction. These protesters were obviously breaking the law by purposely blocking a publicly accessible roadway. However, Judge Takase accepted the protesters defense of their actions. The protesters assert they were preventing the desecration of Mauna Kea by blocking access to the mountain.

It boggles my mind that she accepted the protesters defense of their actions. The TMT project has followed the law every step of the way. The project’s EIS was accepted in 2010, and it had a valid conservation district use permit until the Hawaii Supreme Court invalidated it in December. The court took this action because the petitioners due process rights were violated.

In short, Judge Takase took it upon herself to determine the TMT project is a desecration to Mauna Kea. This is an utter travesty, as there is nothing officially that would support this position.

I suspect she was more afraid of being charged with a possible “war crime” instead of following the law.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona