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National Guard Assists on Molokai

Molokai’s Staff Sgt. Laurence Kimoha’e Puailihau, Jr. (Screenshot from video talk story with Keani Rawlins-Fernandez)

Last week, seven members of the Hawaii National Guard arrived on Molokai to perform thermal screenings at the airport and assist the Maui Police Department during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guardsmen are unarmed and “all local boys just trying to serve their community,” said Staff Sgt. Laurence Kimoha’e Puailihau, Jr., who is from Molokai and now lives on Oahu with his family.

Puailihau joined Councilwoman and Molokai High classmate Keani Rawlins-Fernandez in a virtual talk story last weekend to answer questions and clear up “the uncertainty and anxiety that people feel when they hear the National Guard is coming,” said Rawlins-Fernandez.

Guardsmen are not giving citations, “we’re just supporting Maui Police Dept. in whatever actions they need our assistance,” which includes conducting road blocks, said Puailihau. Additionally, they are “conducting thermal scanning at the airport [and] assisting with enforcement self quarantine,” he said.

“When passengers come in and are departing from Molokai, we are administering thermal scans and the threashold that we are operating in is 100.3 degrees,” explained Puailihau. “If they hit 100.3 or below, we will allow them to board their flight. If it’s 100.4 and above, we use a second thermal scan. [If it’s still above 100.3], we tell them due to their temperature, we’re not allowing you to fly due to the chance of possibly having COVID-19 and to go home and self quarantine.”

He said two guardsmen are standing by TSA during airport hours for the thermal scanning.

The Hawaii National Guard was activated in Maui County following a request from Sen. Kalani English and Rep. Lynn DeCoite to the governor. Guardsmen are operating under Mayor Michael Victorino. The request caused a lot of contention among the community but DeCoite said many residents had requested their presence to feel safer.

The National Guard are currently being deployed throughout Maui County for 30 days, but that may be extended depending on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Puailihau.

Some have worried bringing in personnel from off-island might spread the virus, but Puailihau assured residents “we’re taking every measure possible” to ensure both the health of the soldiers and community.

He said along with wearing Personal Protective Equipment like masks and gloves, guardsmen are constantly sanitizing and making sure there is no cross-contamination.

“We also conduct daily screenings of each other,” he said, checking for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 morning and night. “We ensure everything is within threshold with our temperature and we constantly question each other, watch each other… We’re doing everything we can to not affect anyone.”

Commander of the Hawaii National Guard, Brigadier General Moses Kaoiwi, Jr., spoke with Maui County residents during a virtual town hall meeting last week.

“We are the sons and daughters of Hawaii, we are your uncles your aunties, yours sons, daughters, your cousins,” he said. “I know we’ve had very limited contact with Molokai for a few years now but once Molokai was one of the greatest contributors to the National Guard and a lot of residents who have retired… can probably tell you about the National Guard.”

Kaoiwi said the Guard is “helping the county execute what they need to protect people.”

“You can be friendly and they’ll be friendly back,” he said of the guardsmen. “We just want to help you, so we can focus on the real issue, which is COVID-19…. We’ll be there today, we’ll be there tomorrow, and we’ll be there in the future when the time comes. We’e been there in the past and we’ll always be there for you guys.”

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