Danny De Gracia: Let's Keep The Pandemic's Positive Changes - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

However one might feel about the reasons for Hawaii’s COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, it is undeniable that we have seen many positive changes around the islands since late March.

For those who still have to drive on Oahu streets, traffic has been manageable. Oahu’s outdoor areas are considerably cleaner looking in many places, and there seems to be less trash on the ground.

You may have also noticed that more people are out and about in the early mornings and evenings, getting physical activity or taking their pets out for a stroll. As someone who tries to walk as much as possible before work, I for one have noticed in Waipahu that there are a lot more of my neighbors on the streets now, either running, walking, biking or skateboarding.

Even after the crisis ends, do we all need to drive hours to work every day? Claire Caulfield/Civil Beat/2020

And while I can’t speak for others, I certainly appreciate the fact that for the time being, I’m able to sleep until 6:30 a.m. for telework, instead of having to wake up at 4:30 a.m. or earlier in preparation for a commute on the H-1. Hawaii previously held the distinction of being one of the most sleep deprived states for years, but COVID-19 has given some of us the healthy buffer of sleeping a little more before work.

While it is unfortunate that it took a pandemic to make temporary improvements and ease the daily grind, we might not want to be so hasty in reverting back to the old normal.  Virus or not, the combination of trash, traffic, lack of physical activity, sleep deprivation, and stress in Hawaii all have very real implications for quality of life.

As one of the last born in Generation X, when the stay-at-home order came for Honolulu, I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the memes that started appearing on social media that suggested 40-somethings were ideally suited to being locked up at home because we grew up that way as latchkey kids.

But is this such a bad thing? Perhaps there might be a benefit, even as Hawaii reopens, to allowing all or most of those able to telework in Hawaii to remain at home, at least for a little bit longer. For one, we shouldn’t be in any hurry to recongest Oahu’s streets with cars, as this not only wears down our roads and stresses people out, but takes a toll on the environment.

Telework helps reduce gasoline consumption, which puts more money in the pockets of locals. It also reduces the overhead cost and energy consumption of working in state and private buildings.

Also, when people don’t have to spend two to three hours every day stuck in their cars, they have more time to engage in precisely the kind of healthy activities we’ve been seeing, where people are coming out of their homes, no longer being sedentary.

This kind of additional time to be creative, active and healthy is good for our people and our community.

This is not the only benefit of more people being at home. Both Hawaii and the rest of America, in the past, had thriving home industries. Before COVID-19, our fast-paced Hawaii lifestyle had people working such long hours that many would come home from work burned out with no time to do anything afterward except eat unhealthy fast foods, shower, sleep and repeat the next day.

By contrast, some people have taken up gardening or home arts and crafts in their free time. Many are focused on learning to make healthy meals to boost immunity against coronavirus.

This kind of additional time to be creative, active and healthy is good for our people and our community.  The fact that until now, many people didn’t know how to cook, sew (now everyone’s making cloth masks it seems), or be responsible enough to throw trash in a trash can shows what necessity can teach in a pinch.

Moving forward, the first thing government and businesses in Hawaii should do is ask themselves whether employees working from home is feasible, and if so, whether it should continue after the pandemic. This would reduce traffic, keep our city streets from being worn down daily and help improve quality of life.

The second thing that needs to happen is that we should find a way to digitize as many aspects of our society as possible, so that it isn’t necessary to have so many people physically packed together, susceptible to future mass infections.

Take as an example the backlog in unemployment insurance claims. Is it really necessary to have volunteers and workers in a physical building, slaving away at perfunctory tasks? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just assume everyone who filed claims last month really is unemployed, and give blanket approval to their applications for the sake of moving forward to next month?

Many of the tasks we do in traditional office spaces in Hawaii need to be re-evaluated and we need to find more ways to allow people to work from home. Who would have thought that a virus could teach us how to fix traffic, get people exercising and clean up the environment a little?

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Latest Comments (0)

Very good article! Mahalo!

Midwife1 · 2 years ago

Yes! Approve everyone for UI and then do spot audits.   The loss from ineligible recipients would have to be smaller than hiring 700 people to do the processing.   I certainly hope we can take some of the good innovations and build on them post quarantine.   The costs of the changes should  be the responsibility of the business and employees.   There are documented drawbacks to working remotely when there is also a physical office.   It's harder to get raises and promotions.   There are costs which if not specifically addressed would become the employees burden.   Things like additional utility usage, cost of high speed internet service,  etc.  Address those issues up front. The benefit to the employer is massive...just the reduction in physical office space would be a significant windfall to employers.   Let's make sure that employees share in that windfall.   

CraigR · 2 years ago

Thank you Danny for writing about teleworking! People shouldn’t be slaves to their workstation or stuck in a poor working environment such as with annoying colleagues, loud noise, burnt smell, and uncomfortable seating. Employers should allow for the flexibility to work at home if doable and meet via Zoom. It is unfortunate that some micromanaging employers do not trust employees to work at home and I don’t know how to change this issue.

MK1309 · 2 years ago

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