Pandemics are not new to Hawaii. Although the current COVID-19 pandemic is frightening, an even worse pandemic occurred in Hawaii. It started in 1778 with the “discovery” of the Sandwich Islands by Captain Cook.

At the time of “discovery” until 1900, the native Hawaiian population decreased by over 84% from diseases brought by Europeans. Jared Diamond in his book, “Guns, Germs, and Steel” documents the horrific toll of the march of civilization across the world on native populations.

Today vaccines and antitoxin serums have alleviated many of the diseases that have plagued man in the past, but germs still do warfare on humans and medical science tries its best to keep ahead of new diseases.

But each pandemic wreaks havoc on human civilization as we know it by disturbing human and economic activity. Today the world is in what some have called a medically induced coma.

Alan Oshima Hawaii Economic Community Recovery Resiliency Navigator.
Alan Oshima, Hawaii Economic Community Recovery Resiliency Navigator. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Commerce may have stopped but humans still can think, although often by themselves. Some in the blogosphere have raised the idea that this would be an ideal time to rethink our world and how it operates.

The governor of Hawaii, David Ige, has appointed Alan Oshima, retired CEO of Hawaiian Electric, as his leader to create a task force on how to bring Hawaii out of the shelter in place order, other isolation measures like the 14-day visitor quarantine, and to reopen businesses. It will not be an easy task.

(On a related note, I would hope that Civil Beat would create a forum for people to input their ideas on how to open Hawaii again and still safeguard our citizenry. As one of the respected voices in Hawaii, it would be a great forum.)

In a letter I wrote to Mr. Oshima, I raised some points that should be considered:

Remember Tourism’s Contribution — With the posting of the recent unemployment figures of 37% of Hawaii’s workforce, your task force has a daunting problem. The unemployment figures show how dependent Hawaii is on tourism. Our economy no longer has agriculture and the military to provide the major forces in economic activity in Hawaii. Tourism is at least a third or more of Hawaii’s economic engine. Unlike other diversified economies like California, Oregon, or Washington, we cannot ignore the contribution of tourism to Hawaii, nor stifle it.

Look To New Zealand — Yet how do we protect our citizenry and allow tourism to continue? I would like to ask your task force to consider how New Zealand is handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Like Hawaii’s 14-day quarantine, they have also imposed that anyone who comes to their country must quarantine in a hotel or other abode for 14 days. Absent a reliable test for COVID-19 antibodies and a vaccine, it seems that is the most prudent way to insure that COVID-19 is not reintroduced to the country. Similarly, this could be enforced in Hawaii by actual enforcement of the current state of Hawaii inspection form.

Create A New Health Form — I would also suggest that an additional health form be created requiring visitors to report any symptoms of COVID-19. This could be temporary or permanent given the lack of a test or vaccine. It should be done immediately before the 14-day quarantine is lifted. This would allow for contact tracing that is vital, given the lack of a vaccine or test.

Consider Immunity Certificates — There has been floated the idea of an “immunity certificate” in the media. This is not a far-fetched idea. With the development of reliable rapid antibody tests, like the pet quarantine certificate, visitors could be required to provide proof of such a test before coming to Hawaii or be quarantined upon arrival. Although it has not been proven that exposure to COVID-19 provides lasting immunity, the recency of such a test would provide some assurance of being COVID-19 free. Such a program could be modeled on the current animal rabies-free program.

Finally, I would ask that any recommendations from the task force look at the big picture for Hawaii, not just the immediate crisis.

We must not forget our commitment to a sustainable world. It could be a golden opportunity to reshape how business is done in Hawaii.

How about requiring rent-a-car companies renting most of their fleet as partial electric or fully electric vehicles? There are many models of EVs that get over 200 miles to a charge and I do not think the average tourist drives more than that in a day in Hawaii.

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