COVID-19 has dramatically changed life in Hawaii.

Stuck at home, residents are becoming amateur hairstylists and handymen — teachers on the fly to their keiki.

Many have suddenly discovered the joys of exercise, if only to briefly escape the house. Some pet dogs are getting more walks than they’d like.

The tourists have disappeared. Thousands of jobs and paychecks have evaporated, driving unemployment rates higher than the islands saw during the Great Depression.

Volunteers load emergency food donations into the trunks of waiting cars at the drive-through distribution event hosted at the Ala Moana Center on Saturday, April 11, 2020, in Honolulu, HI. Milk, bread, and eggs were donated by The Salvation Army Hawaiian & Pacific Islands, Hawaii State VOAD, along with 5,000 lbs of Maui potaties donated by Chad & Stephanie Buck. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)
Volunteers load food donations at a drive-through distribution event hosted at the Ala Moana Center in April. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2020

Relationships with family and partners have grown strained, frayed at the edges.

“There’s been an increase in the frequency with which we fight with our partner and the increase of stress,” said Beth Redbird, an assistant professor at Northwestern University who’s studying social changes across the U.S. amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Don’t expect a baby boom in nine months, Redbird said.

Many are isolated, anxious and having trouble sleeping. What lies ahead is largely uncertain.

On Oahu, local public health experts and social scientists are just starting to examine the long-term impacts to this island community. They’re looking at who will be the most vulnerable, so that the state can formulate an emergency response.

So far, “social isolation and food are the two foremost issues on people’s minds,” said Kristine Qureshi, associate dean of research and global health at the University of Hawaii Manoa’s School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene.

She’s part of the Community Care Outreach Unit assembled by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to better respond to the economic catastrophe unfolding from COVID-19.

“If you’re middle class and you’re doing well and you lose your job, and you now become vulnerable, we need to know that. We need to be able to quantify that,” Qureshi said. “It’s an urgent need.”

In the meantime, key numbers and figures help paint a picture of how COVID-19 is impacting everyone in Hawaii, not just those who catch the virus.


Decrease in Daily Bus Ridership

Public transit remains essential for many residents, and, despite the city’s protective measures, TheBus’ drivers face heightened risk of infection to do their job.

The city has scaled back bus service mostly to holiday hours. Everyone aboard must now wear a mask. Vehicles are disinfected daily with electrostatic cleanings.

Ridership plummeted last month and it continues to fall.

In March, city officials reported TheBus’ usual 190,000 or so daily rides were down to 69,000 — a nearly 65% drop.

Those rides slipped down to 59,000 a day in mid-April, city transportation officials report.


Decrease in Hotel and Resort Energy Consumption

The island’s power utility saw a 37% decrease in consumption in its lodging category — hotels, basically — the week of March 30.

It reported a 9.5% increase in residential consumption from March 15 to April 4. At noon on those days, it saw a 24% increase.

The numbers “are a data point for measuring the state’s economic activity. The biggest users of electricity in Hawaii are industrial and commercial enterprises and when they’re slowing down or closing, that shows up on the grid,” Jim Kelly, HECO’s Vice President for Corporate Relations, said in an email Friday.

“Even the small sampling of numbers reflects how we’ve changed our habits and lifestyles,” Kelly continued. “Residential use during the weekday daytime hours when people are usually at work and school is up. On the weekends it’s up even more because people are staying home and not going to their kids’ games or the mall or the beach.”

Overall, however, power use is down. The drop that started at the end of March “wasn’t a gentle curve, it was a cliff,” Kelly said. “That’s something we haven’t seen before, outside of big storms when the system has been damaged and thousands of people are suddenly without power.”


Decrease in Passengers

State authorities have gone to unprecedented lengths to limit visitor arrivals during the pandemic. Some have argued those steps still don’t go far enough.

Nonetheless, the results have been stark.

On March 14, a Saturday, 28,288 passengers arrived in Hawaii, according to preliminary counts.

The following Saturday, 6,478 passengers arrived. That same day, Gov. David Ige announced a 14-day self-quarantine policy would take effect the following week.

The Saturday after that, 808 passengers arrived. That’s a 98% decrease compared to the same Saturday last year.


Increase in Internet Traffic

What happens when much of the state’s workforce migrates from office buildings to their homes? Internet use spikes.

Hawaiian Telcom reports a 50% rise in internet traffic during the peak hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. since Gov. David Ige’s stay-at-home order went into effect. Further, the traffic from key content providers such as Netflix, Amazon and Microsoft has grown by about 33% during that time.

Overall, Hawaii’s cable internet networks have seen a 23% increase in “upstream” traffic — data that’s sent from computers — and a 20% increase in “downstream” traffic received by computers.


Rides Per Day

Biki Ridership

It took Biki less than two years to become the sixth most used bike share rental system in the nation. But similar to Oahu’s highways and public transit, the service has seen a steep decline in use since the pandemic hit.

The shutdown of tourist, education and commercial activity on Oahu “has very deeply cut the majority of our trips and fare income,” said Todd Boulanger, the executive director of Bikeshare Hawaii, Biki’s nonprofit parent organization.

The result “is like setting the clock back to Biki’s first months of service,” he said in an email. The service is down to about a quarter of its normal weekday service and a third of its weekend service, according to Boulanger.


Inmates Released

Jail Population

The more than 700 inmates released statewide as the pandemic took hold includes 366 from Oahu Community Correctional Center, according to the latest figures from the state’s Department of Public Safety.

The effort was prompted by petitions from the state public defender’s office filed with the Supreme Court seeking the release of hundreds of prisoners to reduce the threat of infection.

Public health experts and organizations have said the incarcerated population is more at risk of the virus, prompting mass releases in some jurisdictions around the country.



As of Thursday, Honolulu police officers delivered 7,888 warnings, 3,317 citations and 109 arrests for violating emergency rules and orders, according to the Honolulu Police Department.

Domestic violence calls are almost exactly the same as last year, HPD reports.

The department received 105 reports of abuse of a household member between March 29 and April 18, according to spokeswoman Michelle Yu.

During the same period in 2019, there were 107 cases reported.

“We are monitoring the numbers because we know that this situation could change and worsen while the stay-at-home order remains in effect,” Yu said in an email Thursday. HPD has two additional detectives assigned to the Family Violence Detail to assist if needed, she added.


Meals Distributed

Grab-and-Go School Meals

Hawaii’s public schools are closed for the rest of the year, but those schools are still providing the breakfast and lunch meals that many families rely on for their keiki.

The state Department of Education reports having delivered more than half a million free meals statewide through its Grab-and-Go program.

Anecdotally, service organizations are reporting that demand has skyrocketed. The number of meals that the Salvation Army serves has approximately quadrupled during the pandemic.

“We all know that when you run out of money for food and you start to get hungry, your most pressing need is hunger,” said Qureshi, the University of Hawaii Manoa associate dean who’s assessing the pandemic’s community impacts.


Possible COVID-19 Responses A Day

Honolulu’s Emergency Medical Services department is getting fewer calls. It’s responding to fewer car accidents, hiking accidents and ocean emergencies. “Those are all down because people are staying at home,” EMS spokeswoman Shayne Enright said.

It’s seeing fewer transports to emergency rooms, largely because people want to avoid contracting COVID-19, Enright said.

The department is, however, averaging 82 calls a day related to COVID-19, she added. That includes positive cases and those who suspect they have the virus.

The city’s lifeguards have been on mobile patrol, away from the towers, since March 19. They’re still at the same staffing levels, and they’ll complete as many as 30 rescues on days with big surf, Enright said.


Traffic Fatalities

Here’s a silver lining amid the pandemic: traffic fatalities are down. Ten fewer drivers and pedestrians have been killed in crashes statewide compared to the same time last year.

That includes six fewer pedestrian deaths — nine have been killed compared to 15 at the same point last year, according to Hawaii Department of Transportation figures.

The state saw a spike in pedestrian deaths in recent years: 44 in 2018 and 37 in 2019, compared to 15 in 2017. It remains to be seen whether the pandemic might help lower the death toll this year.


Decrease in Traffic

Congestion, particularly on the H-1, has all but disappeared as businesses close and residents observe stay-at home orders.

By late March, traffic counts had already plunged by historic margins  — down nearly 50% along some of the H-1’s most heavily traveled corridors. By mid-April those numbers were still in free-fall.

A stretch of freeway through Kakaako where traffic was down about 25% in March further decreased to 46% in mid-April, according to the state Department of Transportation.

It mirrors unprecedented traffic free-flow in major cities elsewhere. “We’ve never seen anything like what we’re experiencing right now,” an analyst at the traffic consulting firm INRIX said.


Unemployment Filings

The numbers are staggering. Currently, about one in every three workers in Hawaii is unemployed. Those consequences will be with the state for a long time.

In February, the department saw about 700 claims a week, Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Director Scott Murakami said.

Since the pandemic hit, it’s received more than 250,000 initial filings, according to DLIR officials. On one day alone the department received about 25,000 filings.

And due to the state’s persistent, pervasive problems modernizing its IT systems, the department has struggled to keep up.

“Unfortunately, this was all being managed by a rather antiquated mainframe-based system,” Murakami said this week.

It’s set up three call centers to help process new claims, including one at the Hawaii Convention Center.

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