Coronavirus is spreading within the community in Hawaii. On Friday, there were 11 new cases, including a child. On Saturday, 11 more were reported.

Nearly 50 cases are confirmed. As more testing is done, the infected count will continue to rise.

In response, Gov. David Ige has mandated that visitors and returning residents quarantine in place. Unfortunately, this mandate is not enough. Because the virus is already spreading within the community, the mandate will do little to halt its progress.

To slow the spread of disease and prepare our medical system for thousands of infected patients, the governor needs to declare a state of emergency, call up the National Guard, and order shelter-in-place for non-essential personnel.

Volunteers and Honolulu city workers teamed up on Saturday to help distribute free COVID-19 testing to community members working in high risk professions or those exhibiting symptoms. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2020

The Mandate Won’t Work

Honolulu Police Department officers don’t have the resources necessary to deal with existing problems like property crime and homelessness.

Imagine: the grumpy uncle on your street calls the police to report that you’re violating your quarantine by checking the mail. Another call comes in reporting an armed robbery. Where is the squad car heading?

Besides, there’s no way to tell, based on appearance, whether someone has traveled recently. Unless the state can brand arrivals with a scarlet letter, this mandate will do nothing. It provides the illusion of action, but only puts more lives at risk.

Will police officers be provided with respirator masks to protect them from exposure? Will repeat violators be arrested and put in jail to potentially infect others?

These questions are left unanswered, which might be okay if the mandate will work to prevent disease spread. It won’t.

The mandate ignores the logic of infection. Visitors are still responsible for transporting themselves from the airport to their hotel or residence. Even if they honor the 14-day quarantine, a passenger car ride is more than enough time to infect an Uber driver who can then pass the virus to dozens more.

The governor should declare a state of emergency and force people to shelter at home, not congregate at bus stops like this one along King Street where people waited in masks on Friday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Also, returning residents might honor the quarantine, but the people they live with won’t. Those people will contract the virus and spread it.

If the experience of other states and countries is any guide, then community spread of coronavirus in Hawaii is inevitable, but we decide how dire the consequences will be.

The Italian government was slow in its response. Now, thousands of people are dead. We should learn from its mistakes.

The state should act now to restrict movement and expand hospital capacity to treat the sick.

Anything less will result in needless death.

Declare A State Of Emergency

We are in a fast-moving situation with incomplete information. The potential downside of inaction is huge: thousands dead, and sick people being turned away from overburdened hospitals.

In order to adapt as the situation changes, we need flexibility and clear chains of command.

Normally, diffused responsibility is fine. At a City Council meeting, we can take our time to consider as many interests and perspectives as possible. But this is not business as usual.

The governor needs to take charge. He needs to coordinate the response within the state. He cannot continue to devolve authority to the county mayors. Specifically, he needs to coordinate a response on the Big Island where Mayor Harry Kim has failed to take appropriate action.

Call Up The National Guard

Already, our state appears strained in its response to coronavirus. At this point, one of the most effective testing centers is run by volunteers.

The National Guard will provide the personnel necessary to conduct tests, set up temporary hospitals and assist law enforcement.

In Italy, hospitals are out of beds. Equipment shortages have left doctors to make life-or-death decisions. To avoid this fate, we need to set up temporary hospitals now to cope with the inevitable increase in patients.

As the outbreak worsens, guard members will be vital in the distribution of medical aid and food supplies.

The temporary order to shelter in place will signal to the public how serious this issue is.

Nationwide, more than 6,500 National Guard members are aiding the response to coronavirus. The best time to activate the guard is before the crisis gets worse.

The National Guard is an organization trained to operate effectively in chaotic and uncertain situations. Our state is not. We can benefit from the National Guard’s expertise in coordinating disaster response.

Order Shelter In Place

In Italy, the government waited to restrict movement until thousands of people had been infected and hundreds had died. It was too late.

To avoid this fate, the governor should issue a month-long shelter-in-place order for all non-essential personnel. During this month, people should stay home except for essential activities.

The temporary order to shelter in place will signal to the public how serious this issue is, and it will slow the spread of the virus, so we can gather information and prepare for the worst-case scenario.

Doctors and scientists around the world are working to cure coronavirus. Within a month, better treatments may develop.

Slowing the spread will allow us to benefit from whatever knowledge is made available in the future. It will also allow us to prepare for the worst-case scenario, a world in which the outbreak worsens and better treatments are unavailable.

There’s a lot to be done. Testing centers need to be expanded. Temporary hospitals need to be set up. Medical equipment needs to be stockpiled.

In the worst-case scenario, the state may need the National Guard to help ration and deliver medical aid and food supplies. The month-long shelter-in-place will allow time to establish this logistical infrastructure.

Iolani Palace gates closed due to Coronavirus concerns.
Hawaii’s iconic Iolani Palace has already been closed due to coronavirus concerns. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The Risk Of Inaction

These measures may seem extreme, but they are warranted by the risk.

The short-term consequences of shelter-in-place are not to be weighed lightly. The local economy will suffer, and life will be disrupted. However, this is an acceptable risk.

If Hawaii follows the path of Italy, thousands may die. The reputation of the state will be tarnished forever. Our tourism industry may never recover. This is an unacceptable risk.

Only one person in our state has the authority to decide between these two paths: Gov. David Ige.

During a crisis, a leader must make tough decisions, communicate clearly with the public and accept responsibility.

If Ige is unwilling to take the preventative actions that are within his power, he will be responsible for the outcome. I believe he will make the right choice.

Support Civil Beat during the season of giving.

As a small nonprofit newsroom, our mission is powered by readers like you. But did you know that less than 1% of readers donate to Civil Beat?

Give today and support local journalism that helps to inform, empower and connect.

About the Author