A reflection from the Spring of 2020 and Hawaiʻi Walks’ plans moving forward with COVID-19 in Hawaiʻi .
The Arrival of COVID-19 IN Hawai’i
When news first broke of a novel coronavirus spreading around the world, tensions ran high in Hawaiʻi. On any given day, Hawaiʻi has upwards of 250,000 tourists, and hosts over 450 cruise ships each year. Since one of the first major publicized outbreaks of the virus occurred on the infamous Diamond Princess cruise ship, we here in Hawaiʻi were bracing for an explosive outbreak of the virus. Indeed, our first recorded case was from a man returning from the ill-fated Grand Princess cruise ship. While businesses remained open and travel continued, many began to prepare for a very uncertain future ahead.
outbreaK AND THE CLOSURE OF THE STATE
After the initial case of COVID-19 in Hawaiʻi on March 6th, reports of cases were steadily increasing daily. However, these cases were linked to recent travel, meaning COVID-19 had likely been circulating via community spread on the mainland and in East Asia for the past month. In Hawaiʻi, the first reported case of community spread occurred March 20th. At this point, it became apparent that serious measures would need to be taken to stop the spread of COVID-19. The next day, Governor Ige announced that a strict 14-day quarantine for anyone visiting the islands. A stay-at-home order from the Mayor that shuttered non-essential businesses was the final move bringing the economy to a halt.
Hawaiʻi Walks officially closed operations on March 16th, several days before the official closure by the Mayor. It seemed unsafe to continue to host guests on tours when we did not know the scope of the virus. Many other companies shuttered their doors as well in the following days. This caused Hawaiʻi to have the country’s highest unemployment rate of 37%. The tourism industry in Hawaii supports over 200,000 direct jobs. The income generated from those positions keep other businesses running as well. Thousands of individuals have turned up at free food drives, with some folks to waiting over 4 hours for food.
Hawaiʻi Flattens the curve
However, good news lies ahead. Despite worries that Hawaiʻi would be an epicenter of the outbreak, Hawaiʻi’s COVID-19 rates are very low. Our strict quarantine measures most likely reduced transmission rates greatly. Scientific studies about the transmission of COVID-19 are in exploratory phases, it appears there may be a connection between warm weather and being outside that can slow transmission.
COVID-19 IN HAWAI’I: What’s next
The stay-at-home orders in Hawaiʻi are extended until May 31st. Non-essential businesses must stay closed during this time, and visitors will continue to have to undergo their 14-day quarantine. Hawaiʻi Walks is happy to uphold the requirements decided upon by our public health officials. We are planning to re-open in July at the earliest. This is because we do not want to re-open business and cause an increase of the virus. However, we are monitoring the situation daily and may adjust these plans as needed.
COVID-19 IN HAWAIʻI: Tour Changes
The first change to our tours is that we will be scaling down the number of tours offered. We expect demand to begin low and develop over time. In addition, our north shore Turtle Bay tours may take longer to resume. We will have to wait on the resort to re-instate their staff and operational capacity. Our East Waikiki Walking Tour will resume first on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and during the week at 5PM on Wednesdays. Because of the many different realities we are facing with the re-opening of bars and restaurants, the Waikiki History and Drinks tour is postponed until further notice. This may change as we come closer to opening again.
In conclusion: Mahalo!
While these have truly been trying times, we’ve been touched by how many former guests and business partners have reached out to say hello and share aloha during this time. We treasure every guest we’ve had the pleasure of meeting and we can’t wait to resume our tours. Being able to share the history and nature of Hawaiʻi with folks from all over the world has been an invaluable experience, and we can’t wait to get to share that again with all of you. Mahalo and stay healthy, safe, and positive for what lies ahead.