Finding A Balance Between Health And Tourism Is A Myth - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Koohan Paik-Mander

Koohan Paik-Mander is director of development at the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action and on the advisory committee of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.

I lost at least 30 friends during the AIDS pandemic. Back in those days, you would peruse the weekly San Francisco Bay Area Reporter newspaper, and page after page would be covered with a grid of yearbook-like photographs of all whom had died the preceding week.

Even though that was 40 years ago, still, I can hardly wrap my head around the magnitude of the loss. Today, I’m seeing a dystopic version of it all over again. The maxed out intensive care units. The refrigerated trucks idling outside hospitals to store corpses. The soaring rates of coronavirus cases from New York to Arizona to Florida. And in Hawaii last week, the daily doubling of cases into triple-digit figures. The Grim Reaper is back with a vengeance.

There are many aspects of coronavirus that are triggering AIDS flashbacks for me. One example is the controversy that has been taking place in Hawaii around tourism. It reminds me of a similar conundrum during the beginning of the AIDS pandemic.

At the time, fever-pitch debates had ensued about whether or not to shut down the sex clubs and bathhouses, which were pillars of the gay economy. Gay business owners argued that shutting them down was a constitutional violation. Health activists pointed out that not shutting them down, and allowing the disease to spread, would decimate the gay community.

A woman walks with luggage along Lewers Street in Waikiki as visitor businesses figure out how to reopen during COVID-19 pandemic.
A woman walks with luggage along Lewers Street in Waikiki as businesses figure out how to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic. But health concerns should come first. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

In the end, good sense prevailed, and the bathhouses were finally shuttered. But before that decision, the sex club owners took desperate measures to stay open. They believed they could “find the right balance” between business and public health (as if there were one).

They innovated ridiculous protocols that they assured their clientele would protect them from contracting AIDS, such as gargling with hydrogen peroxide before exchanging bodily fluids. Because there was so little data early on, their snake-oil claims could not be disproved until later.

A Foolish Scramble

Similarly today, we see members of the state’s political machinery foolishly scramble to “find the right balance” between tourism and public health. They send up trial balloons for reopening plans, like the idea to require COVID-19 test results 72 hours before boarding a flight to Hawaii.

Under this plan, anyone who tests positive is to agree to 14 days of quarantine upon arrival in Hawaii. That’s about as effective as gargling with hydrogen peroxide at baggage claim.

Think about it. Any passengers who would have tested positive before the flight would end up exposing the planeload of Hawaii-bound passengers. Meanwhile, any passenger who might catch it from the positive passenger would have already been cleared to holoholo as they pleased.

This plan to “open up Hawaii” – now moved back to Sept. 1 — is a surefire recipe for geometric COVID-19 growth in our communities, even more dramatic than increases we are already witnessing.

Such warped logic demonstrates the dangerous lengths to which our leaders will go to resuscitate a once-golden industry that is no more.

Another example was the way the Legislature handed $90 million to a task force dominated by tourism insiders to envision a post-pandemic economy for our state. That money should have gone directly to support local farmers, to start building an agriculture infrastructure that feeds Hawaii’s bellies as well as Hawaii’s economy.

We must mitigate Hawaii’s vulnerable position as a state that imports 85-90% of our food, is the most isolated land mass on Earth, and is currently fed by a global supply chain that is expected to unravel even more than it already has. Doing so is the first step in building a new economy that prioritizes the well-being of Hawaii’s people. Eating is a priority, right up there with staying alive. Not catering to tourists.

Hawaii needs to follow Europe’s model of self-preservation.

While there are many similarities between AIDS and COVID-19, there is a chilling difference. That is, how invisibly coronavirus is transmitted. The fact that it can be passed on by breath that had been exhaled hours before, by an asymptomatic person, is all the more reason to double down and take every possible precaution.

Finding a mythical “balance” between tourism and public health is a waste of time and money, and, worse, it is a risk to life. Even our mandatory 14-day quarantine cannot hold back a sure and steady rise in coronavirus cases. There is no balance to be struck when a pandemic rages at the door.

Hawaii needs to follow Europe’s model of self-preservation by indefinitely closing its borders to Americans. New Zealand closed its borders to all outsiders, and, as a result, has only 22 cases in the entire nation.

No policy better respects citizens’ rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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About the Author

Koohan Paik-Mander

Koohan Paik-Mander is director of development at the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action and on the advisory committee of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.

Latest Comments (0)

Both familiar and novel ideas can increase median standards of living and quality of life--no matter what businesses are economically viable here in the future--e.g. 1) Make universal health care and universal basic (subsistence) income the new social safety net, based on citizenship, not employment or need. Gradually add visitor user fee and carbon tax to fund UBI and M4A.2) Increase biz incentives to share profits/ownership with local employees & taxpayers.3) Reduce food imports with one-time subsidies of cheap land, ag infrastructure, and long-term land tenure. GET exempt local food produced for local markets--both horizontally AND vertically.  Require public schools, prisons, hospitals, and hotels to buy local first. 4) Gradually transition for-profit HECO monopoly to non-profit decentralized electricity self-reliance, with one-time subsidies for customers who can't afford to go "off-grid"--gradually driving 100% renewable electricity costs toward zero.

Slammer · 2 years ago

It's pretty simple but it keeps coming up again and again.Hawaii is not a sovereign nation (as much as some people  may wish it happens).  We are a state of the U.S. so unlike New Zealand or Australia or Korea, etc., we cannot, repeat cannot, simply ban Americans from coming to Hawaii.

Charles · 2 years ago

Again: use a spreadsheet to pencil out our tax burden assuming that tourism revenue stays at $0, then determine whether people are willing to pay that price. Recycle existing resources as necessary: turn resort towers into workforce housing, rightsize the various government departments, repurpose some "conservation" land for ag self-sufficiency, etc. This exercise will either be a useful preview of the years to come, or it will demonstrate that living in Hawaii was never sustainable without planeloads of cash flying in from off-island. Seems like something we should figure out sooner than later.

shorttimer · 2 years ago

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