Suzen Murakoshi is a performer.
The Aiea resident practices Yamuna body rolling, a type of body therapy that helps improve movement and performance. She’s been performing all her life, everything from acting on television and film to clowning, dancing and Broadway theater. She teaches Yamuna workshops at the Honolulu Club and next month was planning to go on tour with her theater company to Orlando, Florida.
All of that ended when the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation.
Murakoshi, a self-described news junkie, had been reading about the virus since January. By the end of February, she postponed all her classes, concerned that some of her elderly students could be infected by the respiratory illness that has no known cure. She hasn’t been able to work since.
“Everything that I do is about breathing in the presence of other people and touch,” she says. “My whole life has been devoted to being in the presence of other people.”
But even though she and her husband are both out of work and still waiting for their unemployment checks, Murakoshi says she’s glad Hawaii officials have been requiring everyone to stay at home.
“Until we get good testing that’s over 60% of the population as well as the tourists that come in, I won’t feel comfortable with them reopening the community,” she says.
There’s a national divide between people who support the stay-at-home measures and others who are openly defying them. And Hawaii is no different.
Protests against lockdowns have popped up in multiple states, with many of them organized by conservative activists. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has tweeted encouragement to protesters in Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia.
In Hawaii, there have been more than 500 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths, but the state so far appears to be flattening the curve of new cases. Oahu has reported just a few new cases recently and Kauai’s number has stayed flat at 21 confirmed cases since April 12.
Public officials are reluctant to relax the rules and risk another surge in cases. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced plans Tuesday to extend the city’s stay-at-home rule through the end of May, but he did relax some of the restrictions on use of public parks. The city has been using drones to enforce the rules.
The economic costs of the virus have been astounding. Hotels and businesses have closed, and more than 200,000 people have filed for unemployment benefits, a historic high. Still others haven’t been able to access the system. Many renters fear eventual evictions.
Unable to gather, people are discussing the state and county rules and complaining about them on social media.
Residents watching government press conferences resoundingly criticize current leadership in the comment sections of live streams. News readership is up, and many articles are met with a stream of comments either bewailing the restrictions or saying they’re not enough.
On Sunday, about 50 cars drove out to Kapolei in protest of the state stay-at-home order that they say infringes on their civil liberties.
Ewa Beach resident Bernard Noel has been living on Oahu for three years and is currently unemployed. He thinks shutting down makes no sense, and it would be better if the virus makes its way through Hawaii and people built up herd immunity.
“These insane measures cripple our islands. Countless families cannot feed their children. Businesses are in free fall. And I am wondering what was it all for?” he wrote in a long letter to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
Misty Cluett, a real estate agent on Kauai, is one of the leaders of a Facebook group called Walk for Our Rights Kauai dedicated to questioning the new normal.
Cluett thinks the response to the pandemic has been worse than the pandemic itself. She believes the virus is likely more widespread than the data shows, suggesting it’s less deadly than we think.
“I think the stay-at-home order and the cloth mask requirements are excessive and should be ended immediately,” she wrote in a Facebook message.
Cluett says she knows the virus is serious but that normal life could be resumed, even if tourism remains suspended.
“There’s been a lot of fear around this virus. So much so that we are forgetting our humanity,” she said. “It’s just surreal to me that we are living on the premise that everyone is sick! Why do we presume that?”
But even those who think the lockdown is ultimately the right decision aren’t necessarily happy.
“There’s a lot of grief in terms of what life used to be,” says Murakoshi, a “sense of grieving in terms of what was lost, and grieving in terms of missed opportunities as it goes on.”
Every day she reads the news. “It’s insane, what does this mean?” she thought when she read about the drop in oil prices. “How does this ripple through the whole economy? How can I prepare?”
When she drives, the absence of traffic reminds her of what Oahu was like when she was growing up. “It feels like we’ve kind of gone back in time a little bit in terms of pace, and the energy of the community is a lot slower and a lot easier.”
She has been spending time expanding her garden, which already has taro, mint, papayas and oranges. She makes masks, takes online classes, walks her dogs and surfs when she can. But she stopped singing with a group that was visiting assisted living facilities.
Even though there have been relatively few COVID-19-related deaths in Hawaii, she still worries another wave of cases will come this fall. “The second wave of any set is bigger. It’s coming.”
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