Nothing like this has ever happened in my lifetime in Hawaii: a statewide voluntary pull back from almost all public activities to lessen the impact of a virus.
In the years ahead, it will be comforting to look back with pride to say, “Of course, we prevailed during the coronavirus, as we always have, in the Hawaii way.”
Hawaii’s way of facing COVID-19 should not be blackened with shameful memories such as the sight of hoarders flooding into Costco, shoving and pushing to grab the last packages of toilet paper as they filled their shopping carts to the brim with food, water and hand sanitizers.
Or the actions of careless residents who spread false rumors of a shipping shutdown that generated the panic buying.
For the community’s sanity, Hawaii’s response to the virus should be the same mixture of bravery and community generosity that kept islanders going during World War II.
I am hoping we will respond like the residents of Italy who are sparking moments of joy as they endure a nationwide lockdown to help slow the spread of the virus that’s killed more than 2,100 of their brethren.
Instead of wallowing in despair, Italians, in national character, have taken to their balconies and rooftops to sing arias from great Italian operas and national songs of solidarity, banding together to ease the loneliness of their enforced isolation.
In Italy, all the schools, bars and restaurants are closed with residents prohibited from leaving home for anything other than work, medical appointments and shopping for food and other essentials.
A reporter writes: “the cacophony erupting over the streets, from people stuck in their homes, reflects the spirit, resilience and humor of a nation facing its worst national emergency since the Second World War.”
In the most severely hit place in China, Wuhan, drivers have braved their fear of infection to deliver food to the sick and dying. In Iran, overworked emergency doctors and nurses have danced through the hospital wards to cheer up their patients; Iran is third only to China and Italy in the number of COVID cases.
So far, Hawaii has opted for less restrictive directives than the government-imposed lockdowns in China and Italy.
To date, there are 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the islands. Most of the infected people who are now isolated, contracted the virus outside of Hawaii. One, reported Monday, had not traveled, officials said, making it the first potential case of community spread of the disease. Nobody here has died from it.
It’s anybody’s guess what kind of spirit Hawaii residents will display if COVID-19 cases start to spike, people die and state officials impose a mandatory lockdown like Italy’s.
Will it bring out the worst in us? Maybe, but even now there are small signs that residents will respond with kindness toward others.
On Saturday, Wilhelmina/Maunalani Heights resident Emily Hill wrote on the website nextdoor.com: “I know this is an uncertain time so wanted to lend a helping hand to neighbors in need.”
Other readers immediately chimed in to say they would join Hill in offering assistance like shopping for food for neighbors unable to get out to supermarkets.
Another resident offered to share extra vegetables and surplus fruit from his Kapahulu garden. Another joined him, offering limes and bananas from her trees.
In an email announcing the cancellation of church services, First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu urged parishioners to pray and “extend care to those who are experiencing isolation or fear so that they may experience God.”
Hawaii residents already are practicing a key form of sacrifice: the generous gift of social distancing by staying home from public gatherings to slow the spread of the virus.
That is in spite of their disappointment over cancellation of long anticipated events such as the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival, the Kamehameha Song Contest, museum lectures, family reunions, birthday celebrations and hundreds of athletic contests.
Planners of the events have been selfless in their willingness to cancel them.
Social distancing is the best way to flatten the upward trajectory of the virus. By slowing the spread of the disease, hospitals can be better prepared to respond to all their patients, not overwhelmed like the medical facilities in Italy.
A slower spread will buy scientists and medical professionals time to discover medicines to lessen the effects of the virus and, over a longer period, to develop a vaccine. Also, time for manufacturers to produce more needed medical equipment and masks to protect emergency responders from disease. More people will live.
It should be viewed as a privilege to practice social distancing to help others. It is not just about keeping ourselves well but protecting our vulnerable elders and the infirm from possible death.
As for myself, I am sorry to miss the Merrie Monarch. I have gone to Hilo for more than 20 years to see it. I love the party we throw there each year for Hawaii island friends, shopping for Hawaiian dresses at the festival’s craft fairs and driving up to Kilauea volcano to offer my respects to Madame Pele.
I will also miss the chance to celebrate my kumu hula’s birthday Tuesday, a potluck breakfast celebration at Magic Island next month with my weight-training companions, a beachside picnic in Laie and a trip to Alaska in May. The list goes on and on.
Sad to miss all that but the war against COVID-19 offers all of us an opportunity to do something bigger: to work together to halt the spread of a virus that’s killing us.
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