The US Response To SARS-CoV-2? It’s Hammajang - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Karl Kim

Karl Kim, Ph.D. is professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Hawaii Manoa, where he studies transportation and disasters.


The Oxford English Dictionary recently announced that it would be adding the pidgin word “hammajang” meaning “all messed up or askew” to its dictionary.

The timing could not be better as our nation’s response to the pandemic has, indeed, been “hammajang.”

It’s “hammajang” because of the disconnect between science and policy.

It’s all “messed up” because of the lack of planning, coordination, consistent messaging, and the politicization of a global health crisis.

Our response is “askew” because of our failures to prioritize and protect vulnerable, at-risk, elderly populations with chronic conditions and increased likelihoods of catching and dying from the disease.

Hawaii Pacific Health Straub Medical Center COVID-19 driveup testing. June 26, 2020
Hawaii has done pretty well in handling the coronavirus, compared to nationally. Pictured is COVID-19 drive-up testing courtesy Hawaii Pacific Health at Straub Medical Center on June 26. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Our inability to manage COVID-19 and reopen businesses is because of so many moving parts, conflicting priorities, and false tradeoffs between public and economic health.  It is “hammajang” because of longstanding structural inequities and weaknesses that we stubbornly refuse to address.

Face coverings and washing hands, while essential to the current arsenal of response, are too little, too late and hardly what should’ve or could’ve been the actions of an advanced, developed, wealthy society.

We had opportunities to use technology to support early detection and tracing and tracking of the disease but the inability to reconcile public health, privacy, corporate snooping, and profiteering is “hammajang.”

We failed to integrate diversity and indigenous knowledge systems with new technologies, mobile communications, AI, Big Data and experiences from previous natural and man-made disasters into our response to the pandemic.

It’s like watching a train-wreck in slow motion.

Here are five ways to “un-hammajang” the ongoing mess of this disaster:

  1. Make public health data and information more available. Too much is closely held, covered by proprietary and confidentiality clauses, which need to be addressed, but the information must be shared, analyzed and integrated into public, private, and community-based interventions.
  2. Avoid the “ecological fallacy” as nations, states and cities, “don’t get sick and die;” individual people are affected and the health and economic remedies should be directed to where it matters most:  people most impacted by the disease.
  3. Focus on dense populations, congregate living, multi-generational housing, low-income residents, travelers, and others at highest risk of contracting and spreading the coronavirus.
  4. Until a vaccine is developed and implemented, we will need social and environmental actions including distancing, outdoor activities, lockdowns, closures, and painful restrictions which may need to be turned on and off and restarted as this public health crisis will not simply go away in the near term.
  5. Invest in education, training and capacity building and use these “hammajang” times to improve individual, business, and institutional resilience so that we are better prepared to resist, absorb, and recover from future setbacks, disruptions, and calamities.

Hawaii has an opportunity to not only teach the world new words like “hammajang” but also define what it means to be a safe, sustainable, resilient and just society.

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About the Author

Karl Kim

Karl Kim, Ph.D. is professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Hawaii Manoa, where he studies transportation and disasters.


Latest Comments (0)

I guess I defer to the Oxford dictionary but I always thought "hemajang" was the proper spelling with "hamajang" a close second but never with two "m's."  Can CB confirm that its style book confirms "hammajang" as the proper spelling?Always asking the real questions.

CatManapua · 1 year ago

I'm taking your new word to heart miles away here in CT. Hammajang! And I'm also hoping that together across great divides we can be successful in living and defining, as you say, all that it means "to be a safe, sustainable, resilient and just society."

WestportJozee · 1 year ago

I find it kinda interesting that for those aged 0-24, the incidence/prevalence & sickness & death rates are very low.  But that was the demographic that was immediately locked down.  Hmm.  I thought sick people were supposed to be quarantined.  Lots of poho (there's another word) stuff going on.

Ranger_MC · 1 year ago

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