A new survey released Monday finds that Hawaii residents are critical of their government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly half of respondents faulted the state for not being open and transparent to the public. On a scale of 1-10 — with one being “terrible” and 10 being “excellent” — nearly 60% graded the state’s response low, or between 1 and 4.

“I think the main takeaway is that people are upset about this state’s governmental response, although maybe it is not as critical as some might expect with the recent uptick in COVID cases,” said Colin Moore, director of the University of Hawaii Public Policy Center, which coordinated and wrote the community-impact survey.

All told, the survey results paint a stark but complicated picture of how residents feel about the pandemic six months into the twin economic and health crises.

Overall, residents were relatively critical of the state government’s response to the pandemic. Respondents gave especially low marks to the state for not being open and transparent to the public. Native Hawaiians, those making less than $35,000 per year, and those who responded that they would not take the vaccine when available, were the most critical of the state’s response. 

It comes as Honolulu is scheduled to lift its latest stay-at-home, work-at-home order this week and as the state prepares for pre-travel testing of air arrivals beginning Oct. 15.

A “vast majority” of residents (85%) believe that the coronavirus could have long-term impacts on their health. And 82% either agreed or strongly agreed that they do not want tourists visiting their communities right now.

The survey was administered statewide by Ward Research using an online program called Hawaii Panel that awards participants with PayPal points. It was conducted between Aug. 21-31, when the state’s daily number of COVID-19 cases was rising dramatically.

A total of 634 people responded to the survey, which has a 3.8% margin of error and is weighted by age, gender and ethnicity to reflect the adult population.

About one-third answered “not at all” when asked whether their lives and society over the next year would go back to the way things were before the virus. More than four-fifths expressed concern about their personal finances, with child care being singled out as a particular burden for those with children.

We’re Good With Masks, Mostly

Perhaps because of all the concerns about COVID-19, nearly all respondents (99%) say they wear a mask all or most of the time when visiting a store or business, and 84% report wearing masks outside all or most of the time.

Most (87%) also agree that people should avoid large gatherings of five or more people, but fewer people wear a mask when visiting family or friends.

At the same time, half of those surveyed “are somewhat dissatisfied” with how other members of the community are following state and local coronavirus guidelines. And only half plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s made available — even though a solid 85% expect the coronavirus to have long-term impacts on their health.

“That’s the other big finding — that 51% plan to get the vaccine,” said Moore. “But there is a large group of 32% who aren’t sure. That really reveals the uncertainty around the vaccine.”

The vast majority of Hawaii residents almost always wear masks in public. Yet in settings with one’s peers, family and friends, respondents were less likely to wear masks. 

Moore was asked about the contradictions in the survey — people opposed to reopening tourism yet worried about finances, concerned about COVID’s long-term impact yet cautious on a vaccine, compliant with mask rules yet less so around close associates and also suspicious of others’ compliance.

“You often see this in public opinion polls,” he said. “On the masks, people are more critical of other peoples’ behavior than their own. If someone else chooses not to wear a mask, that’s a problem, but not you — you have good reasons.”

Regarding the mixed feelings on resuming tourism, which would bring in much needed revenue for the state and its people, Moore said it is “just a tough issue. It’s a tradeoff. Good people are trying to balance their health and security against this economic crisis, and you can see the tension in the answers to those questions.”

Although a strong majority of respondents (85%) agree that COVID-19 will have very serious or serious impacts on their long-term health, only 51% definitely plan to receive the vaccine once it becomes available. Men are more likely to say that they would definitely get the vaccine (61%) than are women (40%). Japanese respondents are the most likely to say they will get the vaccine (71%), while far fewer Caucasians (45%), Filipinos (40%) and Hawaiians (38%) plan to do so. Only 32% of Hawaii’s poorest households plan to receive a vaccine, while 72% of households with incomes over $150,000 think they will get one. 

The fact that most people surveyed say they expect their lives and society to continue to be impacted by the pandemic is a clear indication “that they don’t think this is going to change anytime soon.”

In addition to Moore, the other authors of the survey are Sherilyn Hayashida, the center’s assistant specialist, and research assistant Robert Lanfranchi.

Click here to read the full survey and its appendix.

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