Danny De Gracia: Go Ahead And Shop, You'll Be Fine - Honolulu Civil Beat

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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.

The question on many people’s minds as businesses reopen all across Hawaii is, “Is it safe to go back out in public?”

Our stay-at-home orders began with the understanding that the coronavirus could spread asymptomatically, meaning that people who didn’t know they were sick could be “shedding” infectious viruses to the people around them. Because we didn’t know who was a viral carrier and who was healthy, authorities felt the best way to arrest the spread and burn out the coronavirus was to issue stay-at-home orders and close nonessential businesses.

Stores at the Ala Moana Center have put numerous COVID-19 safeguards in place. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Today, COVID-19 is still dangerous and there are still people getting infected here in Hawaii. But fortunately, cases have been low, which presents an opportunity to cautiously reopen society, with some restrictions.

Gov. David Ige’s reopening strategy, whose color-coded intervention levels have confused some Hawaii residents, is basically at its core a localized version of the Adaptive Response Playbook developed by the Resolve To Save Lives Initiative.

The phased reopening approaches are best practices to keep society safely functioning even in the absence of a vaccine or some other cure for COVID-19. More importantly, they are meant to demonstrate to citizens that they are not just recklessly being sent out to go back to work without some kind of protection in place.

When it comes to the coronavirus, you don’t just “fight through it” as some have suggested; there need to be defense mechanisms to lower the risk of COVID-19 exposure, and like him or not, Ige’s handling of the crisis has in large part contributed to our low case numbers and deaths.

But to their credit, many Hawaii businesses performed admirably and adapted quickly even as safety precautions were evolving and understanding of the virus was still new. Restaurants and grocery stores, classified as “essential” during the early stay-at-home orders, were able to re-arrange their floors, keep surfaces clean, and control the risk to customers, which also is no small part of Hawaii’s coronavirus success. And now, as more stores and services are being allowed to operate in Hawaii, we are seeing many safety innovations that should encourage locals to know that going out and about – responsibly – is something that they can do.

Testing the Waters

While I still think that you should minimize your public exposure as much as possible, if you are afraid of going into places like Ko Olina, Waikele, Waikiki, Ala Moana or other communities where tourists likely are, don’t be. I’ve routinely been visiting and shopping in these areas for weeks, and not only am I still free from infection, but I’ve enjoyed the experiences there.

When Ala Moana first reopened a couple of weeks ago, I made it a point to go the first day. Most shops and restaurants were closed initially, and there wasn’t much to do except walk around. As would be expected, tables were removed from the food court, outdoor benches and resting spots were marked with no-sit signs and elevators were posted with stickers telling people to limit the number of riders.

Having already gone through the routines of shopping in Walmarts and Safeways during the essential business phase, I was curious how other types of stores might operate. Specifically, I wanted to see what it was like to shop in a store that required face-to-face, close contact with a customer sales representative. Was it safe? And how would it work out?

Though people should still minimize public exposure, they should not fear making a trip to the mall. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

So on my lunch break, I went to Ala Moana and parked in the lot nestled between Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus. The parking lot was cavernously empty, which meant getting there was no hassle. Walking through the mall, I mostly encountered obvious tourists, several of whom weren’t wearing masks, but I figured since they had to have already survived 14 days in quarantine, their lack of protection wasn’t too much to be afraid of.

I wanted to shop at a watch dealer. When I approached the entrance, a uniformed security officer first asked me to submit to a brief screening. The door was blocked by a retractable purple fabric belt suspended between two guidance stanchions, so one couldn’t just barge in unannounced. This particular store was only allowing one customer at a time, so going in there made me feel somewhat special.

As if checking into a hospital, I was asked a series of health questions before being allowed further. When I answered that I was healthy and feeling fine, I was ushered through the door by a customer service representative and presented with a large automated Purell hand sanitizer dispenser, and told to wash my hands, after which I was given dry napkins to wipe off any excess.

Inside, the sales staff all wore pink procedural masks and blue nitrile examination gloves. Instead of shopping by hovering over a glass case, I was asked which brands or products I wanted to explore, and was then taken into an isolation room with a desk and chair to review them. A large plexiglass barrier with a small cutout at the bottom separated me from the salesperson, and prior to handing me the watches, he wiped them down with disinfectant wipes.

The entire process was extremely clinical, and even though we were face-to-face, I never once worried about getting infected because of the protocols in place. I settled on a watch, had three links removed from the bracelet, and paid by debit card. The best part was, not only did they wipe my card with disinfectant after I handed it to them, they double disinfected it again before handing it back to me.

I left the place with a new watch and impressed with how professionally and safely my shopping experience had gone. Many tourist stores are using the same kinds of procedures, which leads me to believe that visitors who come here will probably feel just as safe and willing to shop as I did.

The experience may feel weird for some, but it is definitely safer. It took a lot of hard work to get us where we are now, and I say Hawaii residents should enjoy the “new normal,” responsibly. If you want to shop, go shop. You’ll be fine.

Want more information on COVID-19 in Hawaii? You can read all of Civil Beat’s coronavirus coverage, find answers to frequently asked questions or sign up for email newsletter updates — all for free. And check out pictures of how community groups and volunteers have been helping out in our Community Scrapbook.

Read this next:

Hawaii Will End Interisland Travel Quarantine June 16

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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)

   The plural of anecdote is not data.  I'm happy for the author's pleasant and infection-free visits to stores for non-essential purchases. However, each of these visits introduces additional risk of him catching the virus (with or without showing symptoms) and additional risk of spreading it to others.  I don't know enough and am not enough of an expert in communicable disease if this increased risk is worth the non-essential shopping.

CATipton · 2 years ago

Speaking as one from a high risk group (old with old wife with asthma), I'll be trying to avoid stores with high tourist trade. Of course that's hard to do in Kailua. I do agree that right now is about as safe as it will get. It will only get less safe with the number of tourist ignoring quarantine increasing -- and soon we'll lift the quarantine altogether (dream on if you believe there will be meaningful testing required). But I've learned that us old folk should adapt and stay home, so we won't be doing any watch shopping for a while.

Jray · 2 years ago

With over 20% of all jobs related to hospitality/tourism and virtually no industry to self sustain Hawaii is obviously in dire need of tourists, pretty much a catch 22.  Yes this can and needs to be done smartly and as a previous post says not many people will have the ability (vacation time or $$) to be rushing back to Hawaii, so lifting the quarantine and limiting occupancy rates at hotels, practicing social distancing at all stores/restaurants/beaches etc and this in turn will help the economy.....before it's too late.  Someone needs to get this through to the Governor or he will be standing in the unemployment line as well.

Gmaytag · 2 years ago

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