- Special Projects
WASHINGTON — For U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, the coronavirus crisis gripping the globe is a good chance to connect with old friends.
In between teleconferences with staff and occasional votes on the Senate floor for a $2 trillion economic stabilization package, Hirono has been making paper in her Washington, D.C., apartment so she can send personalized cards to the people she cares about.
Paper making has long been a hobby of hers, and she’s dubbed her latest series “water colors.”
“I’m going through the list of people I know starting with the letter, ‘A,’” Hirono said. “I just want to make sure that they’re doing OK.”
Hirono focused on her friends in Hawaii, mostly because she’s not sure when she’ll see them again. The same is true for her husband, Leighton Oshima, who is currently in Hawaii, and her mother, who is in an elder care facility that no longer allows visitors due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise across the country and in Hawaii, which this week reported its first death.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine, starting Thursday, for anyone traveling to the Aloha State. Hawaiian Airlines also announced it planned to greatly limit its service to the islands.
He also followed the counties’ lead and ordered people to stay at home and work at home unless they are in an essential job designated in a long list of businesses and services that can remain in operation.
“For a lot of families this really hits home,” Hirono said. People everywhere are altering the way they live.
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Like many others, Hirono is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations to wash her hands frequently and limit her contact with the outside world.
When she leaves her home for groceries, she said she opts for a small, nearby market over a bustling Trader Joe’s. The senator says she’s also started taking her temperature every day, which is a new part of her routine.
Hirono, 72, is a cancer survivor, meaning she’s likely more susceptible to COVID-19 than some of her younger colleagues who don’t have pre-existing conditions. Already the virus is affecting life on Capitol Hill.
At least two members of the House of Representatives have tested positive for coronavirus as has Hirono’s colleague, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who recently ran for the Democratic nomination for president, announced Monday her husband tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized after coughing up blood.
In light of the pandemic, some lawmakers have called on congressional leaders to allow remote voting. Already Paul and two colleagues he was in contact with, U.S. Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee of Utah, have skipped votes because they are in self-quarantine.
Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz also wants the Senate to consider remote voting, especially as more and more people work from home to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“There are a bunch of so-called institutionalists who are resisting remote voting but we could soon lack a quorum due to mandatory self-quarantine,” Schatz said on Twitter. “We MUST operate like plenty of American corporations and other organizations and enable voting electronically or by phone.”
For Hirono, the need to craft a deal for the American people is a paramount concern, but she said she’s also not willing to pass a bill that many in her party view as a giveaway to corporate interests.
In particular, she worried about the GOP’s first draft of a deal, crafted in conjunction with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, that would have provided $500 billion to industries, including airlines. Hirono and other Democrats criticized the deal for lacking oversight and taking on the appearance of a “slush fund.”
“It doesn’t put workers, families and the most vulnerable communities first,” Hirono said. “It’s a big blank check to the corporations. That’s not what we need. I’m looking for a fair bill.”
She said Hawaii’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism, will be devastated by the pandemic, and she worries about the many low-income workers employed by the state’s restaurants and hotels.
Hirono is also aware of the growing concern among state officials about Ige’s response to the pandemic. State House Speaker Scott Saiki even called the Ige administration’s actions “utterly chaotic.”
She said President Donald Trump’s inattention early on put a lot of pressure on state officials to take charge of their own destinies, and they will need to continue to do so.
“The need for everyone to come together is very critical and I would expect our local leaders to be working together to figure out the best approaches,” she said. “Because the bottom line is we must do what’s going to keep our people healthy and safe.”
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