Making up 20-30 percent of the state’s economy, the tourism industry is the segment of the economy many Hawaii workers are banking on to reset the economy. When that time comes, businesses are hoping it will be a ripple effect to sweep over all other industries in the state from retail to services of all kinds. But economists and experts believe the realistic expectation for recovery will be a slow comeback until a COVID-19 vaccine is discovered.
Even if tourism reopens, new virus outbreaks that are happening throughout the U.S. since the economy started reopening will keep many Americans from traveling. Then there is the probability of Hawaii experiencing its own flare-up once visitors are welcomed back and the 14-day self-quarantine rule lifted – potentially leaving Gov. David Ige no choice but to close Hawaii to tourists once again.
This worst-case scenario is the reason why the Governor and leaders of the state are inching forward with caution over when to reopen tourism, despite all measures of the economy showing desperation and urgency.
The governor deserves credit for keeping COVID-19 on a lid, with the state having one of the best containment numbers nationally. But the state also must move faster in implementing all the safeguards against COVID-19 so that tourism can reopen. Hawaii’s economy is among the hardest hit, and the state’s unemployment is double the national average–which is why some isle residents are calling for a more balanced approach to handling the pandemic, weighing both public health and the economy.
The general public should know that there are many top leaders in government, business, healthcare, nonprofit agencies, and the military all collaboratively helping to get us through the pandemic. At the top is the Hawai’i Economic and Community Recovery & Resiliency Plan led by the Governor, Major General Kenneth Hara, and Navigator Alan Oshima. There is the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness, the Hawai’I COVID-19 Public Health Recovery Task Force (Hawaii’s Think Tank to COVID-19 response), and many other entities like the University of Hawaii and Department of Health.
The four main areas these groups are working on and reviewing data to determine when parts of the economy (including tourism) can be reopened and certain restrictions phased out are 1) Screening, 2) Contact Tracing and Surveillance, 3) Testing, and 4) Quarantine.
On May 18, the Hawai’I COVID-19 Public Health Recovery Task Force submitted a report to the Governor and House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness. Some of the feedback and goals on all four areas (screening, contact tracing-surveillance, testing, and quarantine) include:
Feedback Summary on Screening
- More screening should happen in high contact areas.
- There needs to be a network of screening checkpoints that can capture a vast majority of population movement.
- Determine if screening should be mandated or whether a softer touch is more effective.
- If screening becomes a requirement, should the state support businesses that are required to screen because PPE (needed for screening) are limited and expensive.
- Determine if there needs to be a mandate on general public health measures and basic pre-entry requirements be posted in all public establishments.’
- Identifying cases of COVID-19 by testing all individuals with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 infection.
- Ensuring all first responders, healthcare workers, and those seeking health care receive the recommended number of diagnostic testing in a timely matter.
- Ensuring rapid and comprehensive testing for any identified clusters of cases or outbreaks.
- Conducting broad, community-based surveillance testing of non-symptomatic individuals.
- The task force leadership recommends that test be done on all asymptomatic close contacts of COVID-19 positive patients and test arriving passengers from epicenters of COVID-19 where there is wide community spread.
Contact Tracing Goals
- Rapid reporting of confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 to Hawaii DOH by all healthcare providers and labs.
- Immediate investigation and isolation of every confirmed and probable case.
- Notification and quarantine of all Close Contacts (i.e., those with face-to-face exposure at less than 6 feet for 10-30 minutes or longer), including downstream contacts of Close Contacts.
- Close monitoring of all confirmed/probable cases and Close Contacts (if test positive).
- Development of a unified Incident Management system for data sharing and reporting across the DOH, healthcare providers, labs, private payers, and other stakeholders.
- By May 31, 2020, establish the ability for each county to be able to isolate and quarantine people who are unable to do so at their own residence or place of lodging.
Due to the shortage of doctors and nurses having to deal with COVID-19, some healthcare professionals are suggesting that foreign nurses and doctors coming into Hawaii to offer much needed relief should be tested as soon as they arrive, given their results at least within a day or two, and if they are cleared should be able to report to their employers before the mandatory 14-day quarantine. Our health care industry needs urgent support quickly and state lawmakers should consider a system to expedite the quarantine process for this group.
Hawaii residents are hoping and waiting that our state leadership can make the progress needed in screening, contact tracing-surveillance, testing, and quarantine to enable safe reopening of the economy and tourism soon.
Our leadership must act quickly to get all the safeguards in place.