A Quarantine Remains Essential Until There Is A Vaccine - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Ellen Sofio

Ellen Sofio grew up in Manoa. She started an online petition earlier this year, Save Noelani Elementary School Trees.


Hawaii’s tentative reprieve from COVID-19 amidst incremental reopening of the kamaaina economy has been marred by the double-digit case spikes following the recent exemption of military dependents from quarantine, illegal game room-connected cases and Waipahu house clusters.

We must guard aggressively against pressure from political and financial quarters to open up recklessly to tourism and demand transparency from the state Department of Health even when sacred cows such as tourism and the military are implicated.

Hotel workers and their union leadership, seeking guarantees of safety before being compelled to return to work, are really speaking for all of us. Like the public health of our local community, the long-term viability of our tourist industry depends on defending a real vision of safe tourism rather than a facade.

DOH will not be able to efficiently contact trace tourists who test positive. Tourists move around extensively and are often in crowded situations, making truly comprehensive contact tracing difficult if not impossible.

Testing after arrival should obviously not be considered a first line public-health preventative tactic. Pictured is the Hawaii Army National Guard checking the temperature of interisland passengers at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport on June 16. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Pre-boarding testing for COVID-19 is also problematic as a protective strategy. At least 22 mainland states and Japan currently have second waves of infection swelling. There is currently no sufficiently accurate one time test to administer just prior to boarding and testing three days prior will miss many newly acquired cases from high incidence areas.

Testing after arrival should obviously not be considered a first line public-health preventative tactic. Once infected individuals are here, they will burden local health care and spread this highly contagious lethal disease.

Health Safety Net

As a backdrop to these challenges, it is important to realize that Hawaii’s health safety net is already inadequate even in the context of a bad flu season, especially on neighbor islands and in rural areas of Oahu like Wahiawa, and could very easily be overwhelmed.

Therefore, pre-boarding testing should be used only as a means of strengthening the protections inherent in the 14-day quarantine, not as a substitute.

The two-week quarantine will remain absolutely essential to our public health and therefore to our economy until we have a proven, effective, long-lasting vaccine. Our only other alternative is herd immunity with the death and devastation that would accompany such a strategy. Governor Ige should be commended for his courage in instituting and sustaining the critical 14-day quarantine.

Hawaii still has the option to follow New Zealand’s example and choose to become and remain COVID-free if we fight for the rights of our community, our ohana and our kupuna.

At this time, our island community has a vulnerable, mostly unexposed population. We do not want to become the next New York City.

We have recently come close to eliminating community transmission of the virus here. Local adherence to protective measures has been heroic and instrumental to achieving this tentative victory.

We have the potential like New Zealand to work towards a joyful unrestricted opening of the local economy if we play our cards right and consistently insist on prioritizing the safety of the community, eliminating the military quarantine exemption.

Considering the urgency of diversifying our economy and shoring up our health care system while providing new employment opportunities, it is worrisome that $1.3 billion including $636 million CARES Act funds earmarked for pandemic relief is being hoarded by state political power brokers amidst a three-week legislative break with no Sunshine Law provisions in force.

These funds must be used for long term visionary purposes and job creation, not held hostage or squandered while the powers that be pry open the Pandora’s box of tourism for the benefit of the airlines and the visitor industry. The airlines have liability to their passengers, crew and destination communities when they carry this lethal virus. As the recipients of billions in taxpayer funded federal bailouts, the airlines, not the taxpayers, should pay for pre-boarding testing to augment the quarantine.

Protected corridor or “bubble” tourism concepts should be scrutinized and judged from an epidemiological not economic standpoint. The recently promoted idea of “bubble” tourism with Japan is ill advised at this time.

Japan has tested well under 1% of its citizenry, has one of the highest mortality rates in Asia and is now reopening it’s packed bullet trains without social distancing. A potential tsunami of this viral scourge originating from Japan’s second wave will not benefit our tourist industry or our community.

Gov. Ige should be commended for his courage in instituting the 14-day quarantine.

We must restrict planning for protective travel corridors to countries such as New Zealand, which has truly eradicated COVID-19 by aggressive control of its borders and by casting a wide surveillance net, testing over 6% of its population.

Senator Donavon Dela Cruz, chair of both the COVID-19 special committee and the powerful senate Ways and Means committee, hails from a community struggling with the economic aftermath and dire health legacy of chemically intensive mono crop agriculture. He has the option of advocating a sustainable and much more health-preserving path forward. I hope that he and other legislative leadership will choose the high road.

While prioritizing CARES Act funds for aggressive revitalization of critical rural hospital systems and primary care prevention networks, Dela Cruz and legislative colleagues can work cooperatively with Governor Ige, Mayor Caldwell and knowledgeable local experts, conservation and land trust NGOs and nonprofits, to coordinate ecologically sensitive food production on safe fallow state, city and private lands. They can network with local indigenous and organic agriculture experts, unemployed workers and their unions, to provide on the job training in all the facets of organic produce cultivation. The dire circumstance of 30% unemployment can be transformed into opportunities to train, hire and healthfully feed our local population, aggressively ramping up local food production and food security while fortifying our health care system to secure our future.

Ua Mau ke ea o ka aina i ka Pono.

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About the Author

Ellen Sofio

Ellen Sofio grew up in Manoa. She started an online petition earlier this year, Save Noelani Elementary School Trees.


Latest Comments (0)

Recently our number of infections has increased and we’re having trouble containing this.  Allowing more tourists at this time will undoubtedly increase these numbers. The smaller islands cannot handle the result of unrestricted tourism....medical staff and hospitals too small. If numbers of infected go up and deaths increase, tourism will suffer along with the kamaaina.  It’s a lose-lose proposition. I believe the writer is correct to take a careful, measured approach to this terrible problem. 

Menehune · 2 years ago

I am an advocate for safely reopening.I do not understand though why we are not trying to test everyone and institute Full Contact Tracing as our priorities.  Are we waiting for tRumps lie that all americans would be tested and that the federal government will pay for it (lol out of our taxes)?  This was and  is Iceland's model.  They have tested everyone in their country.  They have Full Contact tracing in place, and when there is a positive, that person goes into quarantine, and all those whom where in contact are tested. If they are positive, yup quarantine.  This now allows them to let other people, who pre test negative to come into the country (sounds like hopeful Hawaii tourism).  That part is the plan that Josh Green is pushing, but w/o everyone already being tested and without Full Contact Tracing in place, which seems like skipping ahead.So why  haven't all of us been tested?

OneofMany · 2 years ago

I didn't see anywhere in your article where you covered the shortcomings of the quarantine -- mainly the inability to enforce it.  Do we really think the quarantine is being followed by the majority of visitors?  The drowning victim from Tulsa would not have been discovered breaking quarantine had he not died. With the hundreds of people coming in each day, I have a hard time believing they're coming with the intention of following the rules. Fix the quarantine issues and then I'll take this argument more seriously. 

hapa_boy · 2 years ago

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