Government leaders in Hawaii are doubling down on a simple message to fight the spread of coronavirus: work together.
The faster people in the state act — or in most cases do as little as practicing social distancing — the sooner the state can recover from the economic downturn it is bound to find itself in.
“What we do on the virus now determines how we recover on the economic side,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Thursday night in a Hawaii News Now special newscast that included three panels of experts.
Caldwell along with Gov. David Ige, Lt. Gov. Josh Green, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, State Epidemiologist Sarah Park and Schools Superintended Christina Kishimoto made up the first panel to talk about the state’s response to COVID-19.
Maj. Gen. Ken Hara, Hawaii’s adjutant general and director of the state’s emergency management agency, was among the experts who repeatedly urged residents to take the virus threat seriously and stay home for a few weeks.
Screenshot: Hawaii News Now
Having the public adhere to social distancing measures, like staying at home unless necessary to go out and staying 6 feet away from each other when they do, could help to slow the virus down and buy medical workers time to get ahead of it.
There’s evidence people are already doing that, with empty streets, empty malls and mostly empty beaches around the state.
“I think everybody understands that the only way we are successful is if we work together,” Ige said.
Ige and Lt. Gov. Josh Green also wanted to make clear that they are still working together to develop the state’s response, following a public blowup over whether Ige had banned Green from participating in the state’s response effort. Green had called the administration’s efforts a “total fail” and pushed hard for moving faster and more testing, prompting Ige to exclude him from the inner circle of advisors on the virus.
On Thursday, Ige insisted Green is still the health care liaison for the administration who works directly with the medical community to come up with ideas for the state to implement.
Green was highly complimentary of Ige during the panel, applauding the governor’s decision on Sunday to impose a 14-day quarantine on all residents and visitors flying to the island.
“I have his back,” Green said of Ige. “This guy is fighting for us.”
The panelists think the measures implemented earlier this week by county mayors and the governor are adequate for now and urged everyone to take them seriously.
Hara said there are triggers for implementing stricter social distancing measures. For example, more restrictions could come if the virus becomes more widespread.
While the panel was generally pleased with how the public has been responding to staying at home, some still want better compliance. For Hara, that means no shopping at retail stores or congregating in parks.
There were still surfers and sunbathers in Waikiki on Thursday, though significantly less than before.
“Unless everyone takes this seriously and does their part, we won’t stop this,” Hara said.
Green said people can still go outdoors for exercise but they must avoid other people. He said social distancing is necessary to avoid the situation that Italy is facing now, where hospitals have been inundated with patients and many have died.
No amount of planning or stockpiling medical supplies could help in that situation, Green said.
Daniel Ross, president of the Hawaii Nurses Association, was on a separate panel of medical experts. He said nurses are worried about looming shortages of personal protective equipment, or PPEs.
Ross was critical of the government’s early response effort but thinks it’s now started to get back on track.
“I feel like they are doing everything they can to get those supplies, but they need to ramp it up,” Ross said.
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell