I’ve been getting lots of calls, texts and emails asking, “How’s Lanai doing during the COVID-19 pandemic?”

So far, it’s pretty cool over here. In fact, many are saying it’s a lot like being back in the 1970s: No tourists, stores aren’t crowded, and roads with no cars or visitors.

According to Butch Gima, long-time resident and head of Lanaians for Sensible Growth, “It’s hard to say how residents are coping due to the stay in place order. Most of what I can gather is on social media, particularly Facebook. The sense I get is people want facts from a trusted source and don’t want to depend on social media. The other perspective I’m picking up is residents want to limit or eliminate non-residents coming here.”

The latter has pretty much happened, since the island’s three hotels — Four Seasons Manele Bay Hotel, Four Seasons Wellness Center at Koele and Hotel Lanai — are now closed.

Effective since Wednesday, a mandatory 14-day self quarantine is in place for interisland travelers, with an exception for “essential workers” who will be required to wear a mask and complete an interisland declaration prior to their flight.

Lanai road from airport. 13 april 2017
The road to the airport on Lanai in 2017. While the island is mostly shut down because of COVID-19, there is still limited air service. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

Lanai’s airport, however, is still open for business. Ohana by Hawaiian Air has limited service to two flights a day, down from five. Private jets are still allowed but their passengers are under the same restrictions as those who fly commercial.

Meanwhile, Rep. Lynn DeCoite, who represents Lanai, sent Gov. David Ige a letter on March 21 asking him to close both Lanai and Molokai’s airports — critical here especially now since we are the only island free of COVID-19. On Thursday, it was announced that Molokai had its first COVID-19 positive and then a second one on Saturday, and on Friday, one more small, isolated community — Hana — was revealed to have its first infected resident.

So far, Lanai remains COVID-19 free.

Almost Everything Is Closed

The good news for Lanai workers is that “Island ownership” (Oracle’s Larry Ellison through his operating arm Pulama Lanai) will compensate all full- and part-time employees with 100% wages and benefits through May 1.

Pulama publishes a daily update on its website, but for now pretty much everything has been closed: the theater, community pool, Culture and Heritage Center — even Hulopoe Beach Park. A skeleton and security crew is exempted from the stay-at-home mandate and will be on site 24/7 at the hotels to keep them operational.

The only other public way on or off Lanai is the Expeditions Ferry, which responded to the governor’s imposition of interisland travel restrictions with this statement: “Expeditions will NOT transport any Non Essential passengers per the governor’s emergency proclamation through April 30 between Maui and Lanai, until further notice from state and county officials. At this time we will only take the essential Fire, Police, and Medical Personnel with masks.”

Further, they have reduced their regularly scheduled five daily trips to just two trips, and will offer those only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Ron Gingerich washing his hands before entering Richard’s Market. Robin Kaye/2020

Lanai’s only two markets – a third, International Food and Clothing closed last December after 66 years — have set aside 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. as “kupuna shoppers only” times.

A few residents volunteer at Pine Isle Market to help kupuna carry groceries to their cars, and Ellison-owned Richard’s Market installed a hand washing station at the entrance and a table so shoppers can self-pack their bags. Richards just announced that they would begin reducing their hours starting on Sunday.

They will now be closed on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday; open all other days from 7 a.m. (previously 6 a.m.) to 8 p.m. (previously 10 p.m.). In a show of Lanai collaboration, Pine Isle Market announced that it will be closing on the days Richard’s is open: Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

Both markets played pivotal roles in supporting the community during the 1951 pineapple strike.

Lanai’s cafes and restaurants offer takeout only, some offer free delivery, some charge a small fee. Social distancing is clearly on everyone’s mind: the Post Office reminds residents picking up packages or mail to stay at least 6 feet away from others, and has placed “separation lines” in their office.

(If you’ve never been to Lanai, there is no home delivery here; if you want your mail, you have to go to the Post Office and pick it up.)

A sign posted at the entrance of Richard’s Market. Robin Kaye/2020

Lanai’s Community Health Center and Straub Clinic both set up mobile testing sites. LCHC has a drive-in testing site set up behind its building, and Straub has two spaces set up in its parking lot.

One of those sites reported that it had conducted nine tests as of Monday. The state’s published reports of positive cases only reference “Maui County.” And it’s proven difficult to get information on whether there is a strategic plan in place for Lanai to deal with any future positive case results.

I’ve learned that the Lanai Community Hospital has one ventilator but none of the systems needed to support its long-term use (respiratory therapist or lab tests to see how ventilated patient is faring), so they’d simply be a bridge until the patient is transferred out to Maui or Honolulu. Oddly, several of the health care workers and first responders I spoke with said, “For some reason they don’t want us telling anyone anything.”

Apparently this is an issue not unique to Lanai.

So far, Lanai remains COVID-19 free.

So while we all appreciate the front-line responders, our Post Office employees, police and firemen, the pharmacist and his staff, our health care workers, all those essential workers who keep us functioning — most with a smile and personal greeting — many would like to see a better and more direct line of communication from community leaders to residents.

My old friend of 40 years walked into the store just as I was moving to the checkout counter.

“Hi, Robin,” she said, while blowing me a kiss from about 6 feet away.

Stanley Ruidas volunteering to help kupuna carry their groceries during “kupuna shopping hour” at Pine Isle Market. Robin Kaye/2020

How weird. She is a hugger; always with a big one no matter how long since we last saw each other. One of the joys of life on Lanai is seeing friends around town — and in the stores — and giving a brief honi honi (a kiss.) Can’t do that today. Feels very weird.

So, yes, it’s a less crowded Lanai, with fewer unfamiliar faces in the stores, less rental jeeps on the roads, more like the Lanai we knew from plantation days.

But there are more distance contacts, by phone (“How you doing, Uncle Daniel? Need anything?”).

As for the absence of hugs — everyone misses that, but we will do what we have to do to stay safe.

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