Danny De Gracia: Beef Up Health Care System Now Before It's Too Late - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

These are some of the most terrifying days Hawaii has known yet.

With the delta strain spreading like wildfire across the islands and the local health care system strained to the limit, it is as if we are collectively watching the pressure gauge on a nuclear reactor inch toward the danger line.

Terrible things can happen when multiple warning signs are ignored for too long or are allowed to compound. The worst mistake one can make is to assume that because things may seem “not great, but not terrible” we should do nothing and wait for things to get worse before taking action.

In this pandemic, we have seen a pattern of denial and dismissal, followed by disaster, and I don’t mean by anti-vaxxers, I mean by state and local government.

Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, the founder of the U.S. nuclear navy, once told his staff, “Our job is to anticipate the worst, and then fix it.”

Here in Hawaii, our government seems to think the minimum solution spruced up with the maximum gimmick is the way to go. Since day one of the pandemic, the public has been given assurances backed by nothing but pure, unfounded optimism.

First we were told early on in 2020 whenever someone was positive for Covid-19 that the situation was under control, and they couldn’t spread it because they weren’t symptomatic, and even if they were spreading it, we had ways of tracking it. That proved to be a lie, because Covid did spread asymptomatically and we didn’t actually have enough resources to track it.

Then we were told there was no evidence of community spread, and even if there was community spread, it could be contained. I’m not even going to go there, because you know how that turned out.

Now we’re being told that it is perfectly safe to go to school, even if your keiki are below the eligible age for an mRNA vaccine, because we have layers of defense and, purportedly, plenty of smart people in government able to figure this out even without mandatory vaccination.

You see how well that’s working out with parents daily bombarding the social media pages of news sites and Gov. David Ige with outraged comments about Covid infections in schools. Hawaii State Teachers Association President Osa Tui, Jr. perhaps said it best last week: “It’s clear these quarantine protocols are anything but strict, despite what the department and our governor claim.”

I share these things with you, in the event that you have not been paying attention or are unable to see patterns developing, because the next firewall we are soon about to breach is the health care system’s capacity to treat patients.

Drive thru COVID 19 Specimen Collection Center at Straub Hospital.
Hawaii Pacific Health’s drive thru Covid testing center is one of numerous test sites in Honolulu that have been operating since the pandemic began in March 2020. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

It doesn’t give me much confidence to see how the state is responding to the approaching red line. As a highly infectious virus that is well-adapted spreads through the islands and puts more people in the ICU, you’re now being told to wash your hands, get vaccinated, and please curfew yourself.

With all due respect, if that strategy alone worked, then right now we wouldn’t have so many infections and people in the hospitals. We have to assume that the worst is going to happen and take immediate action now so that if the worst happens, we don’t find ourselves in an existential crisis – like we always somehow find ourselves in, here in Hawaii.

The Time To Build Capacity Is Now

There are some who are advocating for a 30-day shutdown of Hawaii to stop transmission and flatten the curve again. There is also talk of a vaccine pass in order to be in public. While that might temporarily drop the infection count, it still doesn’t address in the long term the most important numbers of all, which is our total available beds for treating severe cases of Covid and the total available living spaces where we can quarantine infected people away from multigenerational households.

Right now, on Oahu, the state has an incredible resource in the form of the former NAS Barbers Point, now known as Kalaeloa Airport. The facility already includes a runway which allows for large fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft to transport people and cargo, and it has vast, open spaces on which the state can build a tent or trailer city of administrative offices, barracks and field hospitals.

Both the state and the City and County of Honolulu should work together to turn this sleepy hollow airport into a robust Covid response base. We can hire thousands of unemployed people to be contact tracers and put them in call centers there. We can build enough temporary living spaces on that base to quarantine for free anyone in the state who needs to self-isolate, and when necessary, fly them in.

This facility should stay open for the duration of the pandemic, so that whenever infections surge, or a new variant of concern arises, our local government isn’t caught like a deer in the headlights of a rushing 18-wheeler truck about to mow it down every time a new crisis emerges.

I’m tired of seeing our government engage in the daily dice roll of how many infections and how many deaths can we get away with and how much tax dollars can we extract from the economy being open, before we have to implement restrictions again to prevent the health care system from being overloaded. That strategy is idiotic and unsustainable.

Our job is to anticipate the worst, and then fix it. Before delta gets any worse in Hawaii, we need to start building up the resources to fight what could be a longer war on Covid than we thought. The new normal needs to include getting rid of the old incompetence and the old lack of planning.

Read this next:

Hawaii's Vaccine Mandate For State Lawmakers Is Unusual

Not a subscription

Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service. That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.

Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.


About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Latest Comments (0)

As I noted at the June 2021 Ewa Neighborhood Board, the large expansion of the West campus does not seem to justify the small increase in the numbers of beds, especially given the tremendous growth already built and more planned in the area. Doctor Murray retorted that Queens has "done studies" and feels the amount of inpatient beds is adequate because they will be providing more outpatient care or in home services but could look into it in 15 years if needed.

ewa4ewa · 8 months ago

Danny’s appraisal is spot-on.  The current pandemic is a national security threat insofar as it impacts our economy and disrupts our medical systems.  Although mortality rates are low for the current strains of Covid, the virus has demonstrated that it mutates rapidly.  Covid isn’t the first and won’t be the last global viral pandemic.  How would we respond if we were facing an Ebola pandemic?  We are simply not prepared.  The idea of a facility at Kalaleloa area should be taken under serious consideration because of its central location and access to airports, ports and military facilities.  It would also be well suited to other mass casualty events like airplane crashes.  In disaster preparedness-speak we are currently experiencing an unacknowledged "plan blue, green inventory....this is NOT a drill" scenario, which requires a multi-pronged approach.  Time for all hands on deck.

be_data_driven · 8 months ago

Our elected leaders refuse to make unpopular decisions (strangely at odds from early in the pandemic), while the numbers of infected people seems to still be increasing daily. All of the controls discussed target locals without stemming the flow of mass travel coming into the state. We need our government officials to take this surge seriously while following the science and applying some common sense. Don't go shutting down parks and trails again; shut down places where people gather if they cannot do business safely.Also, just came back from a trip to the mainland and I saw just about zero people wearing masks outside of airports. These are the people we are letting in without testing, so long as they've been vaccinated at some point. Nevermind that Biden is finally admitting that it is time for boosters...

Jay · 8 months ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email news@civilbeat.org to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.