Lee Cataluna: Dr. Libby Char Wants You To Get Your Act Together - Honolulu Civil Beat

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Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

The worst job in the state right now has to belong to Dr. Libby Char. She is director of the Department of Health during a pandemic that seemed to be winding down only to flare up again to a much more virulent, terrifying degree. She has to manage the state’s response to a crisis that is now beyond its control and in the hands of the masses that can’t be counted on to do the right thing.

Yet there she was, taking question after question at the governor’s Friday morning press conference. Char has a way about her, a no-nonsense, straight-talking, familiar way, like the stern seventh grade math teacher who kept you after school until you learned those damn integers, or the un-fun aunty who gave nonfiction books as birthday presents and served papaya leather she dried on backyard screens for after-school snacks. She’s likeable in that she doesn’t need anyone to like her.

Char was administering dose after dose of reality about the status of the pandemic in Hawaii, with no sugar chaser to help the medicine go down.

Her message was clear: We were doing pretty well, folks, and then we blew it.

“Look at the map where the cases are. It’s everywhere,” she said. “All the communities. The entire map is red right now … We are there. We are on fire.”

I tried to paraphrase some of Char’s points but realized that the way she spoke made what she said most impactful. At the risk of coming off as a stenographer rather than a writer, here are some of Char’s most sobering quotes.

Stop Acting Like You’re Immune:

“It used to be if you were fully vaccinated, you could do just about anything. But the delta variant being so pervasive, the fight has changed. When someone is infected with the delta variant of COVID, they have about one-thousand times to one-thousand-two-hundred times as much virus in them than those who had the original-type COVID … Even if you’re fully vaccinated, if you’re sitting next to somebody with COVID, having lunch or having a drink, you’re being bombarded with the virus, and you have a very real chance that that could overwhelm your system and you could become infected. The vaccine is still very, very good at what it was designed to do, which is to prevent severe illness, to prevent hospitalization and to prevent death. But we don’t have the armor that we once thought we had with vaccination, and so we need to be thoughtful about our actions.”

You Are Your Own Kuleana:

“Today, I’m asking you to prepare like you would for a hurricane or other natural disaster. What’s your COVID plan? Where will you isolate if you test positive? Who will help take care of your family members or your kids if you get sick? Who will help you get groceries?  Think about this. Make your plan now … with the number of cases we’re seeing now, the Department of Health is not going to be able to respond to every single person and find isolation for you and bring you groceries and whatnot.”

Don’t Get On A Plane:

“This is a horrible time to travel. Stay home. Unless you have to travel, stay home. You don’t know that the person next to you sitting on the airplane doesn’t have COVID … If you go back to thinking of what we did before we had vaccines and how we were all very, very cautious and we wore our masks and we kept our distance and we didn’t gather, that would work very well right now. Let’s go back to that and be mindful of that.”

When Things Will Get Better:

The state’s health department director told Hawaii residents they already know what to do to reverse the recent surge. Denby Fawcett/Civil Beat/2020

“It depends on what we as a community decide to do. We have the tools, we know what to do, we know what we should do. I know you’re asking the governor whether they’re going to impose any more mandates or whatnot. Honestly, I kind of feel like my family doesn’t need a mandate to know what we’re supposed to do, and I think there are so many of you out there who are exactly in the same boat. We all know what to do. It’s just a matter of us doing it … If we start wearing our masks, keeping our distance and not gathering, delaying the things that we want to do that are fun and not traveling, we will definitely see this disease go down in our community.”

If you watched Char speak at the Friday press conference on Facebook, you would see a stream of hecklers commenting in the chat, a constant scroll of “lies!” and “clowns!” and whack-job accusations of payoffs from pharmaceutical companies. That is the nature of her job right now: protect public health from the virus while protecting the public from misinformation and their own bad decisions. While she’s doing it, she is subjected to the online equivalent of standing in a public square while the townsfolk throw rotten produce at her. This is how we treat our leaders, Hawaii. This is how we mahalo people doing thankless jobs.

Her message was clear, though: There’s no opting out of the pandemic, no pretending that hundreds of people in Hawaii aren’t getting sick every day and that hospitals aren’t filling up. No one is going to save us this time but ourselves.

Read this next:

Danny De Gracia: Don't Count On Government To Protect You From Covid-19

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About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

Latest Comments (0)

I agree with personal responsibility.I would add other common sense measures such as boosting your immune system (80% of infected patients have low vitamin D), getting adequate sleep,  OTC covid test kits ie Binax at Longs.  Both vaccinated and unvaccinated are being infected.  In Israel and Ireland, 50% of covid hospitalization are among the vaccinated.If Dr. Char can give us more to being prepared in case of infection.  Everyone knows to wear a mask, social distance, and wash your hands for 1 1/2 years.Hawaiii can benefit from more guidance.

NDN · 2 years ago

Libby Char deserves an award for her straight talk about personal responsibility.  Too many people have the perception that the DOH and/or other government entities are responsible for the upsurge in cases.  The fact is that many of us are somewhere "on the spectrum" of denial regarding Covid-19 and related variants.  There is a high probability that variants will continue to arise because so many people remain unvaccinated.  We are not hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world.  With that in mind we should encourage our family and friends to get vaccinated, wash our hands frequently, moderate our social interactions, and keep spare masks in our vehicles, purses, etc.  

be_data_driven · 2 years ago

Great article and I think that choosing not to paraphrase Dr Char’s word was very wise.  It is sad that so many violators wouldn’t take time to listen to Dr Char. I think when we are unable to control ourselves we become walking liabilities even in normal life with out a pandemic and that is why we have laws.  I believe that these island need to shut down like before because right now, it is much worse than when we originally shut down.It is not time to reopen, and it certainly is not time for this big re-opening plan by the government It is time to again prove that humans can outsmart the enemy!

Patw · 2 years ago

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