New mayor meets with HICC members

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald People walk in and out of The Most Irresistible Shop in Hilo on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. Kamehameha Avenue was a little more full of people browsing for Christmas gifts.

After taking office last week, newly inaugurated Mayor Mitch Roth has plans to improve the county’s COVID-19 protocols.

Roth, appearing Thursday in an online meeting of local business leaders and members of the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce, said he has spent his first 3.5 days in office discussing with county department heads how to improve the county’s overall management, including the COVID-19 testing program at the county’s airports.

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Roth acknowledged that the ongoing cost of maintaining the post-flight antigen tests at the airports is unsustainable, but said that he is having discussions with private partners who will, eventually, take over management of the airport testing.

“We should eventually be paying zero dollars a day instead of $100,000 a day,” Roth said.

Roth added that he is considering the possibility of changing the county’s quarantine policy to coincide with new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which now advises that travelers can end quarantine after at least seven days, so long as a COVID-19 test taken at least four days into the quarantine returns negative results. However, Roth did not elaborate.

While Roth did not talk in depth about specific plans for his administration, he discussed what he believes to be shortcomings in the current county government and how to fix them.

“We’ve got to get better at interdepartmental communications,” Roth said, saying he has met with department heads to discuss how the county can work better together as a cohesive unit.

“Some departments, they were seeing the mayor come in for the first time in a long time,” Roth said.

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Otherwise, Roth said he is working on developing a project that “could put more than 100 people to work in the next few weeks,” briefly touched on the possibility of a drive-through vaccination program when a COVID-19 vaccine is available, and hinted at some state-level legislation he will work toward soon to help safely get more people back to work.

“Change doesn’t happen unless you try something different,” Roth said.

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