Denby Fawcett: Time To Kiss Aloha Hugs Goodbye - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Opinion article badgeI went to a party earlier this month with my daughter and her eight-month-old baby.

We were taken aback by how many people at the gathering hugged us and kissed us on the cheeks and kissed the unvaccinated baby.

All the people at the gathering were vaccinated and all of them had received booster shots. They were expressing their joy to see us. But still …

I mistakenly thought the pandemic had ended for all time Hawaii’s ubiquitous social hugging and cheek kissing.

When I mentioned my concern to Nicole Robinson, a friend from Kailua, she said that maybe it’s time to stand firm when entering a party to say upfront what’s OK for you and what is not.

At this otherwise wonderful holiday gathering, I could have avoided the embraces and kisses that made me squirmy by stating outright: “Only air hugs for me.” Something direct and non-threatening like that.

It should be the guest’s responsibility, not the host’s, to define the parameters.

State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char suggested an easy way to avoid Hawaii’s propensity for hugging and kissing when people greet each other at social gatherings.

In an email Saturday, she said, “It is safer to flash a smile from at least six feet away than to hug or kiss. As people approach, stick out a fist for a fist bump or an elbow for an elbow bump.”

This precaution is because Covid-19 is airborne, meaning highly transmissible through the air. Close contact increases the risk of infection.

By now, most of us know that fact but a key problem this holiday season is after almost two years of unending uncertainty about what’s safe and what’s dangerous in the pandemic, people are throwing caution to the wind in their hunger for the kind of close social contact that enriched their lives before.

Health director Char says several factors are contributing to Hawaii’s sudden dramatic surge in Covid-19 infections. One of them is what she calls “a misguided belief that the pandemic is over.”

Department of Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char in a joint press conference with Governor Ige and Department of Education Keith Hayashi.
One of the factors contributing to Hawaii’s current surge is “a misguided belief that the pandemic is over,” Department of Health Director Libby Char says. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Unfortunately that’s not true. Infections continue to rage because the delta variant is hanging on — now joined by the highly contagious omicron variant — and the two variants are finding new opportunities to infect at holiday get-togethers and large indoor gatherings such as nightclub concerts, helped along by the state’s loosening of previous stringent Covid-19 restrictions and increased travel.

I like a headline on a recent New York Times editorial: “Covid Isn’t Going Anywhere. It’s Time We Started Acting Like It.”

Even though more than 73% of eligible people in Hawaii are fully vaccinated, only 21% of the population has received booster shots, according to the health department.

The delta and omicron variants have found ways to make people sick, sometimes severely ill, by their shape-shifting ability to evade immunity from prior Covid-19 illness and from vaccinations. Both variants are successfully sneaky.

But health officials say that the evidence so far is that Covid vaccinations — especially when boosted —  can prevent severe illness and hospitalization. Although it’s too early to be certain about that.

Dr. Char says, “People should definitely exercise caution, especially as we expect the omicron variant of Covid to rise very quickly. Case counts are climbing. The omicron variant is circulating in the community and delta is still very much present and we know how devastating it was in August and Sept. A new surge in cases has already begun.”

She says, “If we want to protect our loved ones through the holiday season and beyond, we must continue to use all the tools at our disposal. Vaccines. Masks. Distance. Avoid large gatherings. Socialize outdoors when feasible.”

We are lucky in Hawaii. In December, outdoor gatherings are possible almost every day and night.

If you can’t entertain outdoors, Dr. Char says open the windows and doors to improve ventilation. Only remove masks at gatherings when actively eating and drinking. And if you don’t have a booster shot, get one.

The Sunday morning TV news shows were filled with information about how to dodge the new omicron variant.

Dr. Francis Collins, who is retiring after leading the National Institutes of Health for 12 years, emphasized to CBS’s Margaret Brennan on Sunday’s “Face the Nation” the need to be continually vigilant about Covid-19 with masking and vaccinations.

Dr. Collins said, “I know people are sick of hearing this stuff. But the virus is not sick of us. It’s thrown us a new curveball, and we’ve got to be ready to hit it.”

And I would add that even though you might be sick of hearing it, let’s say aloha for good to Hawaii’s ubiquitous, virus-friendly aloha hugs and kisses.

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About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Latest Comments (0)

Denby has a point, last paragraph - "And I would add that even though you might be sick of hearing it, let’s say aloha for good to Hawaii’s ubiquitous, virus-friendly aloha hugs and kisses."  The time is here in our brave new awoken world to eliminate any cultural practices (especially Hawaiian since it's so social) that has the slightest chance of increasing morbidity and mortality.  Any possible human interactions that can risk our health (let's not go there and consider mental and emotional as health) should be slowly eliminated. Please let science lead! For example, Japan is at the tip of the spear in the use of robots (if face-to-face needed) and virtual interactions (we know how now)  in dealing with the need for hygienic care of the elderly.  Scientists can make them robots seem warm, cuddly (oops) and appealing.  We could have a luau experience virtually and UberEats delivered vacuum-packed pork and poi (additional charge to deliver VR goggles for the full 3-D experience of the hula girls/guys).  In the year 2525 (a la Zager & Evans) can begin now.  Mahalo for your prescient impetus. 

kekaewa · 7 months ago

Makes no difference whether you avoid hugs or not, covid is airborne, so if you are indoors and covid is in the air, it will enter your system unless you are wearing a sealed N95 or N99 equivalent mask. What the author could have emphasized is the viral inoculation. Personal health metrics aside, there is a notable difference in the speed of recovery based on how much of a viral load your immune system was exposed to. In that sense, avoiding hugs, in theory, should reduce your viral intake. However, if you are in an enclosed environment among strangers, and there are guests shedding the virus, you are in the wrong environment if your primary concern is not catching it in the first place. 

Kken · 7 months ago

I'm good at avoiding unnecessary social contact by mostly staying at home and reading alarming news articles such as this. But in essence Denby is right in her assessment.

macprohawaii · 7 months ago

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