Denby Fawcett: Entering A World Of Uncertainty As Hawaii Reopens


About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.


Seems like an eon ago when I could walk out the front door maskless, without concern about catching a killer virus, confident, free and easy, knowing there were no limits against anything I wanted to do, solo or with a group of friends.

Those were the days when it was fun to eat too much nori sushi at a potluck picnic or fill up at a Sunday hotel buffet on eggs Benedict with no rule against sampling three or four different desserts. Or the evenings when we laughed until we cried in a packed theater watching a hilarious play.

We can no longer do those things, following a willing acceptance of what was once unimaginable: a nearly three-month-long statewide lockdown coupled with many new restrictions to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Judith Inazu (left) and Lorie Young (right) head to the showers, after finishing their aqua jogging class in the water, at Ala Moana Beach Park, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Honolulu, HI. The ladies are some of the very few beach goes who choose to keep their masks on even while in the water. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)

Judith Inazu, left, and Lorie Young, right, at Ala Moana Beach Park are some of the very few beach goers who choose to keep their masks on even while in the water.

Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat

The lockdown that helped save us ended up leaving much of the population jobless, suffering in financial misery.

Now, in an attempt to restore the economy left in convulsions by the shutdown, many of the restrictions are being lifted at the very time epidemiologists and virologists still know so little about the disease.

Health officials say the plan is to move cautiously with gradual reopenings to determine how far to restore business activity safely. State Health Director Bruce Anderson said in a talk last month, “If everything goes south, then we might have to shut down again.”

Despite the optimism of the reopenings, what I dislike most is the radical uncertainty.

It’s like being on an infantry patrol in Vietnam, having to cross a swirling, muddy river on foot, not knowing when the bottom will disappear, turning it dangerously deep.

New York Times reporter Charles Warzel spells out a list of 48 uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus in an article entitled  “When Will Life Be Normal Again? We Just Don’t Know.”

He writes, “Despite the relentless, heroic work of doctors and scientists around the world, there’s so much we don’t know.”

Among the uncertainties are: We don’t know how many people are infected with COVID-19.

The New York Times reported on May 16 that only 3% of the population of the United States had been tested for the disease.

In Hawaii, 55,336 people had been tested or about 4% of the population of 1,416,000.

There still has not been enough testing, surveillance and contact tracing to determine the full spread of the disease here, which when considering the difficulty of contact tracing might not even be possible.

Also on Warzel’s list:

We don’t know the full range of symptoms.

We don’t know why some infections turn into severe disease (death).

We don’t know the full range of risk factors.

We don’t know how many adults, how many children are asymptomatic. And if children spread the disease to adults.

As most businesses and activities in Hawaii reopen some of the most worrisome uncertainties remain:

We still don’t really know exactly how the disease spreads. For example, how far does the virus spread outdoors? How far does it travel in an enclosed room?

Another important uncertainty: How long will people here continue to practice social distancing when Hawaii’s infection rate is steadily dropping with 46 confirmed cases last month and seven days last month without any new infections?

It seems clueless to reopen the state in the face of continuing uncertainty on how and why the virus is still spreading in different areas on the mainland.

The state health department has praised Hawaii residents for their willingness to comply with social distancing recommendations, citing their compliance as one of the key reasons the rate of infection has not reached the numbers forecast at the beginning of the lockdown.

In April, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecast that Hawaii’s death toll from the coronavirus would be as high at 390 people.

Nothing near that horrible happened, but with the risk of resurgence there is no reason to get complacent.

Another key uncertainty to me is how successful the tourism industry will be in its continuing efforts to bully the governor into ending too soon the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for all incoming travelers.

Ige announced Monday that the quarantine will be lifted June 16 for interisland travel in Hawaii. But he doesn’t plan on lifting the quarantine for trans-Pacific travelers from overseas and the mainland until sometime after June 30. He said he would announce the date soon to reopen out-of-state travel to the islands.

Each day the pressure on him intensifies to terminate the first of its kind quarantine in the U.S. that most health officials say has been Hawaii’s most effective step to curtail the spread of the virus.

Life will always be uncertain. But it seems clueless to reopen the state in the face of continuing uncertainty on how and why the virus is still spreading in different areas on the mainland.

Why let travelers in from the continent when there is no known cure for COVID-19, no vaccine and a paucity of cheap, reliable same-day testing kits. And there are not enough workers to track all those who have had contact with an asymptomatic traveler who might land here to spread the disease.

The coronavirus has affected different states with differing degrees of severity. Luckily, in Hawaii the infections and death rate have been low. An absolute certainty is that we need to keep it that way.

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About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.


Latest Comments (0)

· 1 month ago

Great article, Denby. So many uncertainties and, if you are responsible for the "care and feeding" of others, it's hard to know if you are making the right decisions. As a business owner wondering if it's safe to allow my people back to the office, I am frustrated by the State not providing more information on the nature of the new cases. When we are down to only a few new cases being reported, why can't the State let us know if those individuals are, for example, new arrivals from the mainland who brought COVID-19 with them, residents in a nursing home, restaurant worker, etc? I understand safeguarding medical privacy but surely more information could be provided that would be protective of individuals' privacy and still give us enough information about the spread of the virus to make informed decisions.  

isletrigrrl · 1 month ago

I will be 84 years old in 3 weeks. After all is said and written, at this time I have no options but to remain reclusive. The life I lived before Covid-19 is gone. 

Kahuluikid · 1 month ago

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