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.

WAIKIKI TRAVEL GUIDE: A SATURDAY ON KAPAHULU

Wondering how to spend a relaxing but interesting Saturday in Waikiki without driving all around town? Looking for a place that isn’t drowning in tourists? Read our Waikiki Travel Guide for Kapahulu avenue to learn how to spend a perfect Saturday in East Waikiki.

All the places you’ll need to stop for a kick-ass Saturday in Waikiki

*Note, none to the businesses mentioned in our Waikiki Travel Guide are advertisements or posted in exchange for financial or other gifts. Hence, this is pure, 100% opinion offered without the judgment cloud of potential instagram fame or fortune. These are actually places I went on my own and thought they were great and worth sharing.

7:30 AM: Coffee Time at KNots Coffee

  • Knots Coffee Roasters Main Picture
  • Coffee from Knots Coffee Roasters
  • Patio at Knots Coffee Roasters at Queen Kapiolani Hotel in Waikiki
  • Merchandise at Knots Coffee Roasters in the Queen Kapiolani Hotel
  • Baked goods at Knots Coffee Roasters

First of all, if you’re not already in Waikiki, it’s time to splash some water on your face and head down to the shore to get caffeinated. We recommend the delicious coffee at Knots Coffee Roasters inside of the Queen Kapi’olani Hotel. This is a chain from Tokyo that just opened this Honolulu location in 2019. This is probably one of the few coffee bars that sells not only coffee, but also alcohol and dog treats. Yep! Knots Coffee is dog friendly and before-noon-cocktail friendly too. Choose your poison–booze, coffee, or pupper. They’ve got it all.

A picture of a croissant from Knots Coffee Roasters in Waikiki Hawaii
Knots Coffee Roasters Croissant

I was really impressed with the latte I ordered. It was exceptionally rich and smooth with a subtle taste of lavender. Turns out they brew with coffee from Big Island Coffee Roasters based out of Puna, Hawai’i, which was recently named the 2nd best Coffee Roaster in the U.S. by Forbes. I also was pleasantly surprised by their croissant, which was really tasty and flaky. Feel free to take your goods to go, or do as I did and sit and enjoy the view from their street-level patio.

Knots Coffee Roasters is open from 5AM – 11PM daily. It is located at The Queen Kapi’olani Hotel at 150 Kapahulu Ave. Instagram: @knotscoffeehawaii Facebook: /KnotsCoffeeRoastersHawaii

8:00 AM The Waikiki Specialty Farmers’ Market

  • Specialty Farmers Market Waikiki
  • Specialty Farmers Market Sign
  • The line for produce at the Specialty Farmers Market in Waikiki

The Waikiki Specialty Farmers Market is a very small but quirky outdoor market open every Saturday. It is held by Creations of Hawai’i, a non-profit that supports community programs around cultural arts and social awareness. Touring the entire market should take around 30 minutes, even with stopping at each booth. Expect to pick up some local Filipino food, some baked goods, and cheap produce.

The Waikiki Specialty Farmers Market is held every Saturday from 8AM – 2PM. It is located at 324 Kapahulu Avenue. Facebook: /Waikiki-Specialty-Farmers-Market

9:00 AM The Hawaii Walks East Waikiki Walking Tour

Kapiolani Park by Hawaii Walks Walking Tour Company
Waikiki Travel Guide: Kap’iolani Park on a perfect day during the East Waikiki Walk

We may be biased, but we are fairly confident the absolute best way to spend 9AM -10:45AM on a Saturday morning is on our East Waikiki Walking Tour. Our walking tour was created to bring information and wonderment in an accessible and affordable way to tourists and residents in historic Waikiki. We want you to look up, see birds, trees, learn about the history of the area, and understand Waikiki in ways you haven’t ever had the opportunity to do before. Let our expert guide show you why Waikiki is so much more than just high rises and fancy restaurants. Join us!!!

The Hawaii Walks East Waikiki Walking Tour takes place Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9AM. It starts and ends at the “Surfer on a Wave” statue. Facebook: /hawaiiwalkstourco Instagram: @Hawaiiwalkstourco Twitter: @HawaiiWalks

11:00 AM Art on the Zoo Fence

  • Art on the Fence in Waikiki
  • Vendors along Monsarrat in Waikiki

After enjoying your Hawaii Walks East Waikiki Walking Tour, check out the Saturday morning Art on the Zoo Fence along Monsarrat Avenue right across the street from the ending spot of the walking tour. During this event, local artists line the fence along the East side of the Honolulu Zoo to sell their photographs, paintings, and mixed-media art. Unlike most expensive galleries, you buy the works directly from the artists themselves. Incredibly, Art on the Fence has been being held for more than 50 years. If you’re visiting Hawai’i and looking for something authentic and affordable, check out Art on the Fence.

Art on the Zoo Fence is open every Saturday and Sunday from 9AM – 4PM. It is located along the Zoo fence on Monsarrat Avenue. Facebook: Art-on-the-zoo-fence-Hawaii

11:30 AM: Lunch at Lulu’s

Storefront of LuLu's Waikiki
Storefront of LuLu’s Waikiki

Amidst the $30 hamburgers throughout the menus of rapidly gentrifying Waikiki, there stands one relatively affordable spot with a view–LuLu’s Waikiki. LuLu’s is perhaps the last restaurant in Waikiki that normal local folks go to for normal meals. Otherwise, Hawai’i residents usually only venture to Waikiki on birthdays and anniversaries as most the affordable spots have long since been converted to high-end bistros that charge $10 for a Heineken. Most importantly, with plenty seats facing the ocean, you’re almost guaranteed a great view while you eat. Expect non-fussy, straight-up American fare–burgers with fries, nachos, and dips. Lastly, feel good about supporting this local business, as they are a certified ocean friendly restaurant meaning that they use sustainable policies in the establishment to cut down on plastic waste.

Lulu’s Waikiki is open 7AM-2AM. Location is 2586 Kalakaua Avenue. Instagram: @lulus_waikiki Facebook: /LulusWaikikiHI

1:00 PM: The Honolulu Zoo

  • The entrance of the Honolulu Zoo
  • Flowers at the Honolulu Zoo
  • A bench in the HNL Zoo
  • The playground at the HNL Zoo
  • A walking path in the Honolulu Zoo

After checking out the artists on the back of the zoo fence, we recommend visiting the Honolulu Zoo itself. The zoo was founded back in 1877 on a small plot of land, and has since grown to encompass 45.5 acres housing hundreds of animal species. With affordable entry prices, it can be a great way to spend your afternoon. If you have children, you will find a huge playground in the center of the zoo where you can watch your wee ones play while you sit under gorgeous canopy trees on a large landscaped lawn. However, beware of overly friendly peacocks! Look at this guy who came up and squawked at me while I was enjoying a drink at one of the rest spots inside the zoo:

The Honolulu Zoo is open 9AM – 4:30PM daily. It is located at 151 Kapahulu Avenue. Instagram: @TheHonoluluZoo Facebook: /HonoluluZoo

5:00 PM: Sunset Drinks and dinner at DECK.

After working up an appetite walking around the zoo, it’s time to reward yourself with a drink, a view, and a great meal. You’ll need to return to the Queen Kapi’olani hotel where you had that morning coffee at Knots Coffee Roasters, and head up to the Mezzanine by way of the central elevators. Once on the mezzanine, you’ll see the gorgeous patio view of DECK. bar and Grill overlooking Kapi’olani Park.

  • The outside of the Queen Kapiolani Hotel
  • An indigenous pohinahina plant
  • A view of Leahi from Deck Bar and grill in Waikiki
  • The Queen Kapiolani Hotel sign in Waikiki

DECK. Bar and Grill opened in 2019 after the renovations were completed at the Queen Kapi’olani Hotel which transformed the spot into a retro-chic boutique hotel with major nods to its historic past. However, DECK. is actually a separate company from the QK Hotel, as its parent company is the massive Plan Do See America, a corporate chain from Japan that develops hotels and restaurants around the world. The open-air design is really laid-back, unpretentious, and the views it offers are really unrivaled. Happy hour is from 4-6 and from 9PM until close, and we recommend trying one of the local beers on tap!

Sunset view of Kapahulu from DECK
Sunset view of Kapahulu Avenue from DECK.

DECK. is open from approximately 6:30 AM – 11PM daily. It is located at 150 Kapahulu Avenue. Instagram: @Deckwaikiki Facebook: /Deckwaikiki

7:30 PM: The Royal Art gallery at the Queen kapi’olani hotel

  • The Royal Art Gallery at Queen Kapi'olani Hotel
  • Portrait of Queen Kapi'olani at the Queen Kapi'olani hotel
  • View of the Royal Art Gallery at the Queen Kapi'olani Hotel

Finally, after you’ve drank and eaten yourself into a soft stupor, take a moment of repose at the Royal Art Gallery located at the back of DECK. Note, to get there, walk back towards the elevators and head down the small set of stairs located behind the pool. At this gallery, you can see re-paintings of the monarchy’s official portraits in large and gorgeous detail. Above all, read the placards below the images to learn more about these important royals’ history. In fact, there’s even an old map of Kapi’olani Park that shows its former use as a horse race track! Furthermore, the gallery will really help contextualize all that you learned on your tour. It’s a really fantastic room with gigantic ceilings that make the Queen Kapi’olani such a special hotel that includes such a valuable and interesting display of Hawaiian history.

The Queen Kapi’olani Hotel is open 24/7. It is located at 150 Kapahulu Avenue. Instagram: @QueenKapiolaniHotel Facebook: /QueenKapiolaniHotel

Closing time

After these many stops in this small area of Waikiki, you’ll certainly be ready for bed. Or, if you’d rather continue drinking, you can head over to Hulas next door (gay bar), or venture down Kuhio avenue to one of the many bars down the road.

Our Waikiki Travel Guide reflects our philosophy as a tour company. The world is rich and full of details that need your attention to be seen. We encourage you to appreciate the less-popular, small streets in Waikiki–and life. Too many times tourists think they have to go to the most famous or fancy hotels or restaurants, missing the smaller spots that have great history and real soul. So next time you’re in Waikiki, make a day of it on Kapahulu Avenue: The most underrated block in town.

Leahi during sunset from DECK. in Waikiki
Waikiki Travel Guide: Le’ahi during sunset from DECK. in Waikiki

THE INTRODUCED BIRDS OF OʻAHU

In the lowlands of Oʻahu you’ll find birds from Indonesia, Brazil, and Japan–but almost no birds from Hawaiʻi. Why are our local birds from everywhere but here? Learn about the birds you will encounter during the Hawaii Walks Waikiki Walking Tour and elsewhere around Oʻahu!

An introduced rose-ringed parakeet sits on a tree branch. Photo:  Maxx Rush on Unsplash. These birds are common during out Hawaii Walks Waikiki Walking Tour.

Ancient Hawaiʻi : A diverse and robust aviary

The first Polynesians likely arrived to Hawaiʻi around 1200 AD. These explorers likely arrived from Tahiti and The Marquesas Islands in two separate migration events. When these first settlers arrived, they encountered dozens of rare, endemic birds not found anywhere else on Earth. Due to the absence of other birds or predators that were common on continental lands these birds evolved into unique species. In fact, there were upwards of 70 different endemic land birds before the arrival of humans. However, now there is only one, the nēnē.

An endemic Hawaiian Goose, the nēnē, takes flight in Hosmer’s Grove, Maui. Photo: Hawai’i Walks

Why the native birds disappeared

Upon the arrival of humans, birds encountered this new predator for the first time. Land birds were slow, full of protein, and had little to no fear of humans. As a result, the first settlers consumed a large percentage of these birds as a source of meat. The large number of bird bones found in ancient Polynesian caves corroborate this finding. Sadly, after the arrival of humans they were never to be found anywhere again.

Artist depiction of a Moa-nalo, an ancient flightless bird that most likely went extinct in the late 1700’s. Photo: Apokryltaros at English Wikipedia

Non-human threats to Native birds

Not all birds died by the direct hands of humans. When the first humans arrived to Hawaiʻi, they brought with them rats, dogs, and pigs. These animals likely preyed on ground birds as well as forest birds. Because rats had the ability to climb trees and attack nests, they were particularly damaging to the bird population. As a result, many native birds had their eggs eaten by rats.

A rat sits on the ground. Rats most likely decimated the population of nesting ground birds by attacking their eggs. Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

Humans also brought with them what would prove to be the most dangerous threat to native birds yet–the mosquito. Introduced in 1827, The Southern House Mosquito carried two deadly diseases, Avian Malaria and Avian Pox. Because Native Hawaiian birds had no exposure to other birds or mammalian species, they had no immunity to these diseases and native birds began a quick fall towards extinction. However, mosquitos cannot live in lower temperatures. As a result, birds in lowland Oʻahu quickly died out, while birds in higher elevations survived. This is the primary reason there are very few endemic and indigenous birds in Waikiki. These birds are usually found exclusively on the high-slopes of volcanoes like Mauna Kea on Big Island and Haleakalā on Maui.

An endemic ʻIʻiwi bird sits on a ʻOhia branch on the slopes of Haleakalā in Maui. These birds used to be found throughout the islands, but now live exclusively in high-altitude climates where mosquitos cannot live.

Climate change

While native birds can still be found in high-altitude locations throughout the Hawaiian Islands, climate change brings about a new threat. As global temperatures increase, this means the “mosquito line” will effectively shift higher since temperatures overall will increase allowing them to reach higher altitudes than ever before. Current models adjusted for climate change suggest that, because of the growing encroachment of mosquitos, the native Kiwikiu could experience extinction in just 25 years.

A native Kiwikiu, which has a population of just around 300 birds. Photo: The Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project

the introduction of new birds

As the native bird population has declined, the number of introduced species has greatly increased. The greatest contributor to this was most likely the Hui Manu (“Bird club”). This group of wealthy bird enthusiasts wanted to beautify the islands with colorful songbirds in the early 20th century. Since so many of the beautiful native birds had been killed off, these European settlers felt that there weren’t enough birds to beautify their garden. To fix this, they imported tens of thousands of birds, selected based on their looks and singing ability. Most of these birds further hastened the decline of native birds, as they out-competed native birds for food and eventually spread to overtake their forest habitats.

A drawing of four birds introduced by the Hui Manu. These birds are now wide-spread throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Can you identify these birds? They are common during our Hawaii Walks Waikiki Nature Walking Tour. Photo: Honolulu Magazine

Escaped parrots

In Kapiʻolani Park, it’s likely you will hear the distinctive squawk of the rose-ringed parakeet echoing high above you. These birds have drastically altered the landscape of the Hawaiian Islands in just a few years. The first of these birds escaped from a bed-and-breakfast in Kauai in the 60’s, with the population slowly increasing until a rapid exponential growth over the past decade. These birds have been decimating local crops, increasing the spread of Avian Malaria, and annoying residents with their loud calls. Currently, there is no removal plan in place in Hawaiʻi for this species, and as a result, many people have taken matters into their own hands and have admitted to shooting the birds at will. Even with this renegade bird-justice, however, the population continues to climb.

A Rose-Ringed Parakeet dangles upside down while consuming a fruit on a tree. See this bird during our Hawaii Walks Waikiki Nature Walking Tour. Photo by spandan pattanayak on Unsplash

Where are we now?

The trends we see of declining native bird populations coupled with increasing numbers of invasive birds will most likely continue. However, conservationists have been working hard to stabilize native bird populations. The Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project has seen successes with their Kiwikiu conservation work, and they continue to develop additional measures of protection for the birds. The Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project is best known for its conservation efforts of the Akikiki. In addition, avian biologists from the ʻAlalā Project have successfully brought back the Native Hawaiian crow, the ʻAlalā, from the brink of extinction and are observing an increase in the population due to their conservation efforts.

The future of Birds in Hawaiʻi

The future of native birds in Hawaiʻi will depend on our action or inaction as stewards of the islands. Slowing climate change and supporting local bird conservation agencies will be important to ensure we do not lose any additional birds to extinction. See below for a list of bird conservation groups that could use financial donations or volunteers to keep their work going strong!

Our best suggestion to support native birds is to learn about their struggles, donate to their cause, and most importantly, don’t forget to look up! Every bird above you has a story….

A native ʻElepaio. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife

A kolea walks on concrete in Hawaii

All About the Kōlea – Hawaiʻi’s Resident Winter Bird

The kōlea’s presence in Hawaiʻi has sacred roots and their annual migratory journey is a modern wonder. Read why this bird is not your average plover!

Kolea Bird Walking Tour Hawaii Walks
Photo: JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/)

“Is that a sandpiper in the grass?” guests often ask during our Waikīkī Nature Walk as they point to the long-legged Pacific Golden Plover (called the Kōlea in Hawaiian), picking at bugs in Kapi’olani Park. With most tours counting upwards of a dozen of these birds on any given day from October – April, they certainly pique the curiosity of visitors and locals alike with their elegant walk and distinctive calls. These birds look similar to sandpipers, with long legs and pointy beaks. But what makes them different? What makes the Kōlea such a treasured part of the Hawaiian landscape?

Plovers and sandpipers belong to different families. Sandpipers are part of the Scolopacidae family, which refers to a group of shore-birds. Plovers belong to the Charadriidae family, which includes birds like the Kōlea, that are larger and don’t feed exclusively on shore lines. Amazingly, these families of birds are thought to have been around up to 33 million years ago! Even though they are cute, scientists often refer to birds as modern dinosaurs, and seeing as how long they’ve been around, it’s no wonder why.

Image by Vinson Tan ( 楊 祖 武 ) from Pixabay

Amazing Navigators

The Kōlea is a migratory bird that breeds in Alaska and Siberia during the summer months, and then flies over 4,000 miles to Hawaiʻi every year to fatten up in the warm tropical weather on a buffet of bugs, berries, and seeds. Amazingly, these birds return from their Northern climates down to the same patch of land on the islands year after year. Many Hawaiʻi residents will say they have their “own” Kōlea, even going so far as to give them names. In fact, many families in Hawaiʻi consider the Kōlea their ʻaumākua, which is a spirit of protection that takes the form of a particular animal.

Fiercely territorial, the Kōlea will fight off any other Kōlea that may try to conquer their grassy knoll. The distance they have traveled to return to the same location every year is no small feat, which explains why the birds are willing to take on any rival Kōlea that ventures into their territory. And while older birds know the path to get to Hawaiʻi, newly hatched offspring do not. After baby birds are old enough to fly, the adults take off for Hawaiʻi. Meanwhile, the young are left behind for several more weeks. Amazingly, the young birds find their way to Hawaiʻi on their own without any guidance.

HD quality shot of the Pacific Golden Plover by Youtube user: JH1RNZ

Kōleamoku – The God of Healing

The Kōlea is named after Kōleamoku, the God of Healing in Hawaiian religion. It is thought that the Kōlea bird is an incarnation of Kōleamoku, and would fly to bring messages to the Aliʻi (Hawaiian leaders) from the Heavens. Since they departed for much of the year, it is easy to see how it would make sense that these birds were thought to be leaving to communicate with spirits in far off places.

Spotting the Kōlea

The best place to look for Kōlea are on flat stretches of grass. They have long legs and move in quick successions of small steps. Their call is a shrill and loud, and you’ll only hear it when you’ve gotten too close. Before the birds depart in April, the males grow a distinctive black plumage known as their “breeding tuxedo.” This is how locals know it’s almost time for the birds to head back to their Northern habitats.

A male Kōlea in its recently changed breeding plumage. Photo: snowmanradio

If you don’t see any around grassy spots in Waikīkī, you can always go visit the Kōlea at the Honolulu Zoo.

Enjoy your warm winter stay, Kōlea!

Book at tour today at hawaiiwalks.org to meet this bird in person from October – April!