Hawaii wildfires: HHS declares PHE, state manages hospital capacity

HHS declared a public health emergency Aug. 11 for the state of Hawaii due to wildfires, with the extension of resources and flexibilities retroactive to the day the fires began.

As of Aug. 14, the wind-fueled brush fires that began on Aug. 8 and burned thousands of acres of land on Maui and Hawaii Island have claimed 96 lives with officials expecting the count to grow as searches continue, NBC News reported. It is now the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century. 

HHS' declaration of a PHE in the state follows the declaration of major disaster by President Joe Biden and activates waivers and flexibilities — retroactive to Aug. 8 — with CMS to better meet Medicare and Medicaid members' emergency health needs. 

The Hawaii State Department of Health also issued guidance Aug. 11 for residents to "be vigilant" against COVID-19 at a time when cases are climbing, residents are congregating in group shelters, and hospitalizations are increasing from the wildfires, posing a risk to hospital capacity. 

"The sudden increase in hospitalizations from the tragic wildfires highlights the need to preserve hospital capacity and prevent hospitalizations due to COVID-19," Health Director Kenneth Fink, MD, said. "While most people will have mild illness, taking personal steps can help reduce the risk of severe infection and further spread of the virus."


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