"Do you look at florist boxes and forget the mosquito? And yet that's where we are at this point," she said. "Because you can't do it all. You have to choose."
Okada warns people would need to sleep with mosquito nets if a disease-carrying mosquito were to become established in Hawaii. Visitors would have to take shots or pills before coming to Hawaii, and some people could die of malaria, she said.
"For us, it's not reasonable for us to be threatened with something like that happening to Hawaii," Okada said.
The state Legislature is considering a proposal to give Okada's department $1.8 million in the upcoming budget so it can hire more inspectors. The number of inspectors wouldn't reach previous levels, but it would raise the number to 82 and cover nine Maui inspector salaries now financed temporarily with federal money.
She hopes political and public support could ultimately bring that number back to 95 inspectors, enabling the state to check cargo and baggage at all hours of the day and night. Until then, she said her agency will have to scramble.
"It's hard to manage — it's like always juggling 'what's going to be important today? And what do we give up today for that?'" she said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.