In late May, as Hawaii prepared to open its economy to residents and eventually tourists, Gov. David Ige and his economic recovery czar Alan Oshima rolled out a grand plan for reopening the economy, including a color-coded matrix that would be used to guide the reopening.
“This reopening strategy aims to protect the lives and livelihoods of the people of Hawaii and presents a responsible, measured path forward in a dynamic situation,” the report, titled “Beyond Recovery: Reopening Hawaii,” proclaimed on its cover page.
The matrix included key benchmarks — contact tracing capabilities, whether the virus was in clusters or spreading through the community, hospital capacity — and outlined what businesses and activities could resume based on those benchmarks.
“The data and metrics that inform this strategy are and will continue to be monitored daily, and the recommendations herein will be updated as required,” the report stated.
Two months later, as the virus spreads at an alarming pace and officials impose new restrictions, neither Ige nor Oshima will share the data and metrics that are informing the new, current strategy. Oshima’s spokeswoman referred calls to Ige’s office, and the governor’s spokeswoman also declined to comment.
The governor’s unwillingness to share metrics and data as promised come as state and local officials mount a new response to rein in the virus, which appears to be spreading out of control on Oahu.
Hawaii reported 231 new cases on Saturday, a new record, capping a grim week that averaged 144 new cases a day. That was up from fewer than two new cases a day at the beginning of June, when the state was preparing to emerge from strict stay-at-home orders.
On Thursday, Ige and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced new measures to control the virus.
The governor said he would re-impose a 14-day quarantine on interisland travelers. Caldwell announced he would close beaches and hiking trails, but most other businesses and commercial activities – from restaurants to tattoo parlors and car dealerships – would keep on going, although with restrictions.
Conspicuously absent from the announcement were any data and metrics explaining how the policies were devised, which Ige’s office promised it would use to inform such policymaking.
Alex Zannes, a spokesman for Caldwell, said the mayor’s decision to close the beaches was made at the recommendation of Hawaii Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson, who said the city should try to put a lid on “large, uncontrolled gatherings.”
Zannes said the Department of Health shares timely data on things like hospital capacity as well as details on where clusters of cases are located. This includes information as specific as the type and location of an establishment where the cluster appears to have started, Zannes said.
At the same time, Zannes said, the city has not been able to get some information, such as data on the state’s contact tracing, which could be helpful in understanding the virus.
“We don’t have all the data we want,” Zannes said.
That’s not surprising, says Scott Saiki, the speaker of the Hawaii House of Representatives who also co-chairs a committee that’s helping guide the state’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. On Thursday, he sent a letter to Anderson asking for “sufficient data that enables the general public to make sound decisions regarding personal and community health and safety.”
That could include things like the date and general location of transmission, type of activity or event where the transmission occurred and whether the infected person was wearing a mask.
“The narrative could be very simple, e.g., the asymptomatic, unmasked individual attended a graduation party at Lanikai Beach on Memorial Day with approximately 25 other unmasked individuals, 12 of whom subsequently tested positive possibly as a result of attending the event,” Saiki wrote.
Perhaps most alarming, Hawaii is taking steps backward on the color-coded matrix that was created to guide a reopening of the economy – and a reclosing, if necessary. Hawaii is officially in the “Act With Care” phase of recovery, which according to the chart means people and businesses can function with minor disruptions. That phase is indicated by a yellow square.
But that level assumes the spread of the disease is under control, with only “local, controlled clusters,” and that there are more than enough contact tracers on staff to track and isolate the current load of cases.
And that’s not where Hawaii is now, said Lt. Gov. Josh Green, a medical doctor who is part of the state’s response team. He said some metrics indicate the state is no longer in the yellow zone but back in the orange zone, which is the “Safer At Home” category.
“Safer At Home” calls for a lockdown more stringent than simply closing beaches and hiking trails. It means closing gyms and personal services businesses like beauty shops and massage studios as well. The red zone, called “Stay At Home,” is the most draconian and would mean another virtual shuttering of the local economy.
“Based on the metrics, we’re essentially back in orange and will quickly fall to red if the numbers don’t come down,” Green said.
Green said the matrix was supposed to provide a way to make decisions concerning opening the economy using public health data and metrics. But he said that doesn’t seem to be happening.
“It ultimately has devolved into a discussion between the governor and the mayors and whoever has his ear,” Green said.
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