What’s the COVID-19 situation in Hawaii right now?

Hawaiʻi was once a national example of success against COVID-19. Now the COVID-19 situation in Hawaii is worse than ever. What’s next for us?

concrete building under blue sky
Photo by Jeffrey Czum on Pexels.com

May – June: Hawaiʻiʽs days of success against COVID-19

During our last update in May, Hawaiʻi was experiencing a decrease in cases of COVID-19. Due to some of the most strict quarantine measures in the country, we appeared to have gained control over the spread of the virus. By slashing inbound flights, instituting a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the island, and closing beaches, parks, and most businesses, we brought community spread to nearly zero. We all planned business re-openings and looked forward to being able to socialize again with friends.

Farmers markets re-opened in June, where we saw only 265 cases over the course of the entire month.

Hawaiʻi Walks remains closed

In response to our low numbers of cases, government officials rapidly re-opened the economy of Hawaiʻi. Hawaiʻi Walks was allowed to open as well. In fact, being a business that operates in open-air environments with plenty of social distancing, we are a “lowest-risk” business. However, feeling that the re-opening was premature, we have remained closed. Additionally, we noticed some tourists requesting bookings seemed to be violating the state-mandated 14-day quarantine. We realized verifying tourist compliance was well outside the scope of our mission and business. For a company that is about joy, education, and meeting new people, these new circumstances were untenable. So we have remained closed, with our staff staying at home to do our part to flatten the curve.

At home in Palolo valley, missing our walks and talks with folks from all over the world.

COVID-19 surges again in Hawaiʻi

Sadly, the opening of the economy is proving to be premature. Like the rest of the United States, the COVID-19 situation in Hawaii worsened in July. In one month, we saw a large resurgence of COVID-19, with cases increasing by over 50% in just 30 days. We hit a month-high with 42 cases in mid-July. At the time, we thought was a possible peak. We were wrong.

Masks have since been made mandatory in public spaces

August – Cases COntinue to surge, but why?

While we saw 265 total new cases in the month of June, we had 354 cases on a single day in August (August 13), which is a full 1,690% increase from the total 30-days prior. Memories of early plans to market Hawaiʻi as “the safest place in the world” now felt laughable in their naivety. Since June, residents have had relatively few restrictions on movement or commerce, confusing messaging from government officials, while simultaneously likely experiencing quarantine fatigue. As such, in July, we saw massive outdoor events, the return of workers to offices from remote work, and a disregard for quarantine protocols by visitors. It cannot be surprising that by August, Hawaiʻi had the highest infection rate in the country.

Graph of new COVID-19 cases in Hawaii

Total Outbreak

Government officials repeatedly insisted the spread was under-control because of a robust COVID-19 tracking program with 400 activated contact-tracers. This may have distorted the public view toward the virus as a low-risk threat to their daily lives. However, an unannounced visit by state senators and Hawaii News Now to the Department of Health on August 8th found that, in actuality, there were only 15 contact-tracers. With over 100 cases assigned to each worker, these individuals were overwhelmed and unable to manage an acceptable level of virus tracking. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 situation in Hawaii continues to worsen with gigantic outbreaks continued at our local prison, the state’s largest emergency homeless shelter, and even the Honolulu City Hall.

So what now?

Now, we wait, socially distance, hold government officials accountable, and wash our hands. But most of all, we stay closed. If you had plans to visit Hawaiʻi, we can only say that now is probably not the right time. Beaches, trails, and many businesses are closed, with more to follow. We are averaging 1-2 deaths a day. Local folks are hurting, and we cannot afford additional risk at this time.

However, we are not out of business. We are still accepting bookings for 2021 and are using this time to rebuild our website, build out our online shop and stay on top of new historical research to make sure we are at the top of our game for educating the public when we get back to work. Cases are spiking all over the world, not just Hawaiʻi. As such, we expect our economy to continue to be paralyzed until a vaccine is developed.

A red-billed leothrix photographed in early August 2020, prior to the closing of hiking trails on Oʻahu. Read more about our local birds and nature on our blog.

We expect our future to look entirely different than our past: Much like the rest of the world. We will keep everyone updated on our plans, as usual, right here. Stay safe.

COVID-19 IN HAWAIʻI: WHAT LIES AHEAD

A reflection from the Spring of 2020 and Hawaiʻi Walks’ plans moving forward with COVID-19 in Hawaiʻi .

A Honolulu Police Department officer writes a ticket to a man sitting on a bench in an unusually empty Waikiki park on Saturday, May 2nd, 2020.

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.

A worker paints a boarded store-front at the Marriott Beach Resort on Kalākaua Avenue, Waikiki

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.

Economic Shutdown

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.

One of the most popular and crowded parking lots in Waikiki at the Honolulu Zoo sits empty.

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.

As of May 1, 2020, Hawaiʻi appears to have flattened the curve on COVID-19 and now has less than 5 cases a day on average. Source: Google with data from Wikipedia

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.

Taking a walk through Waikiki with a facemask. We were sure to observe 6 or more feet of distance between ourselves and any one else nearby.

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.