A special unit assembled by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency is trying to help the state better respond to the economic crisis unfolding as a result of COVID-19.

Their preliminary results, taken from the responses of 121 local community groups and released this week, provides a bleak if perhaps unsurprising glimpse into the situation in Hawaii.

The pandemic has already sparked widespread hunger and housing issues, financial strain, demand for equipment to protect against the virus, mental health service needs and a loss of health care, according to the survey.

Volunteers load milk, eggs, bread, and potatoes into the waiting cars of those in need who showed up in droves to the Ala Moana Center for emergency food pick-up on Saturday, April 11, 2020, in Honolulu, HI. The Salvation Army Hawaiian & Pacific Islands, Hawaii State VOAD, and private citizens Chad & Stephanie Buck worked together to offer the Easter weekend drive-through food distribution event. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)
State emergency officials are trying to better quantify the needs and threats that COVID-19 poses to the islands’ communities. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat

Typically, these community health and social service groups cater to the island’s more vulnerable populations — kupuna, the homeless and low-income residents, among others.

However, as the crisis persists, these groups might find themselves helping middle-class families as well, said Kristine Qureshi, associate dean of research and global health at the University of Hawaii Manoa’s School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene.

The community groups reported that collectively they had capacity to expand their services by 32% to help accommodate the growing need — but they don’t have the money to do that themselves. Instead, they would need an outside funding source.

In six months, they could expand capacity by 43%, according to the survey. The groups expect most of these problems to persist through the next year. They anticipate issues such as domestic violence and child abuse, as well as a sense of isolation and loss of community, will worsen as the economic crisis deepens.

Qureshi, the lead member of HI-EMA’s Community Care – Outreach Unit, said this is just the first phase. The group next plans to survey individual community members directly and see how their responses compare to those of the service groups.

It aims to work with representatives of the following communities to reach out to individuals: Native Hawaiian, Filipino, homeless, Pacific Islanders and rural and elderly residents on the neighbor islands. The survey questions are still being drafted, Qureshi said.

The goal is to give HI-EMA a better idea of the facts on the ground so that the agency can assess and respond to the long-term threats posed by COVID-19.

Some 60% of the community groups surveyed provide health services. The pandemic has driven up the need for “telehealth,” allowing health services providers to help patients using the internet, they said. However, many of those patients in remote locations lack the hardware or have not been told how to participate in telehealth sessions, they said.

It’s a key problem, according to the survey.

Read the executive summary of the survey here:


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