Lee Cataluna: Pandemic Details May Fade But The Loss Of Life Must Be Remembered - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Lee Cataluna

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


Opinion article badgeThe kupuna generation, those born in the 1930s who remember WWII in the islands, tell stories of blackout curtains on the windows, volunteering to roll bandages for the Red Cross and going through drills in school to check whether gas masks leaked by marching children through rooms filled with gas.

What will any of us remember about the pandemic? The early days of Covid-19 are already fading, and that was only two years ago. Time seems to warp and the details get fuzzy when normal life goes through a total upheaval, and even the upheaval gets upheaved many times along the way.

Remember when we thought we’d just have to shelter indoors for a while, like riding out a hurricane? We were so hopeful back then, though it seems like a lifetime ago. That was a relatively innocent era, when we still joked about a “five second rule” after popping food that had been on the floor into our mouths, and routinely went to work with a fever attenuated by Tylenol. That was before we understood everything we now know about a pandemic.

When Gov. David Ige announced a statewide emergency stay-at-home order to stretch from March 25 to April 30, 2020, that step felt drastic enough to get us through the threat. We had no idea that was just the beginning.

Remember thinking that all we needed to do was sit tight through April? Wipe down your groceries, sing Happy Birthday when you wash your hands and binge watch Netflix. That was going to be the way we beat the coronavirus. It’s hard to recall those days when everyone was so naive.

Pidgeon takes off from ‘The Wall’ near Kalakaua Avenue and Kapahulu Avenue with empty beaches in the morning during COVID-19 pandemic. May 21, 2020
Wakiki Beach was often devoid of people during the early months of the pandemic. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Remember when our goal as a community was to “flatten the curve”?

It was a rallying cry, a team cheer, the summation of the one goal we could all work on together but separately, in our own homes, breathing our own air.

Ige said it in March 2020 as he issued statewide stay-at-home orders: “These actions are extreme, but they will help flatten the curve.”

He said it again the next month: “Let’s work together to flatten the curve.”

It was sometimes a plea: “We need your help to flatten the curve.”

And sometimes an affirmation: “We are flattening the curve.”

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said it. Then-Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said it.  Everybody repeated it like a mantra or a slogan.

The thing about flattening the curve, though, was that as soon as people broke loose again, so did the virus, and that line curved back up pretty quickly. “Flatten the curve” only worked as a rallying cry once.

Remember when masks were hard to come by? Like, not just sold out at the store, but unavailable because they basically didn’t exist unless you worked in a dentist’s office? That was before crafty crafters got to work and stitched up fabric pieces with elastic ear loops.

Remember trying to make your first mask with grandpa’s old bandana and two stretchy hair ties? Now, face masks are as ubiquitous as boba straws and Starbucks cups in the detritus lining parking lots and sidewalks.

Remember when the biggest concern was the loss of jobs and the state’s messed-up unemployment office? But then, so many businesses ended up desperate for workers. All people wanted was to be able to work, but things changed, and “living your best life” took on a different meaning. It’s hard to remember when it meant just not being laid off.

It’s been a long two years, and some of what we’ve been through isn’t worth remembering.

The most shocking thing to forget, though, isn’t all the details of the strange way we’ve lived since March 2020; it’s the loss of life – more than 1,330 Hawaii residents as of this week. Each death has been like a one-off — a singular, unrelated, secret thing rather than a person who died as so many others died, in the sweep of a disease that went around the world.

The scope of the pandemic isn’t fully realized without knowing all those names, and already, that loss is just a number, devoid of impact and easy to forget.


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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)

We killed off normalcy for young people for a large period of their important years. This is sad and ignored by all the old people that don’t care because they already had their normal world in their youth.

Sqwauk8O8 · 2 months ago

Here's an "amen" from an unbeliever. I lost a friend (OK, with "preexisting conditions") to this plague, and Caldwell's stupid beach closures did nothing to prevent that. Clearly none of our "leaders" had much of a clue about how to react, but the kindest take is that they did the best they could. I see the crazies, the Trumpers and antivaxers, as the worst angels of this sociological disaster, with their "freedom marches" (unmasked through Waikiki) and the more recent "freedom convoy" for (whatever? gasoline consumption?). Let's hope that the tolerance for idiocy in our populace ebbs.

tiredVoter · 2 months ago

It's crazy how far we've come from 2020. It's ironic that case counts are higher than this time 2 years ago when things were coming to a screeching halt. 3/26/2020, 11 COVID cases and 0 deaths. 3/2/2022, 166 new cases and 7 COVID related deaths. The first few deaths even drew gubernatorial recognition.Yup the details are fading.

surferx808 · 2 months ago

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