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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.