By Elpidio R. Estioko
We are fighting an invisible enemy and for the past six months, COVID-19 has been winning and defeating us to the extent that every state is now in panic-mode and scrambling for an immediate solution.
Going over the 31 states where COVID-19 surged, the almost unanimous moves by governors to contain the pandemic are to wear masks, observe social distancing and impose a mandatory 14-day quarantine. These, As I See It, are the last bastion of defense to win the war against the pandemic!
Folks, take note that these are measures already being implemented by the State of Hawaii… but are just being considered by the states that surged! This means that Hawaii is way ahead than any of the states in containing the pandemic. Agree?
Even US President Donald Trump had a complete reversal, an about-face, lately from his original position about wearing a mask. “Get a mask,” Trump said in a briefing early this week without key members of the White House coronavirus task force. Vice President Mike Pence added a surprise pronouncement saying: “the illness will probably get worse before it gets better.”
The President added, “It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better. Something I don’t like saying about things, but that’s the way it is.”
Well, I hope this is not another political gimmick because As I See It, he was made to reverse his position considering that everything is falling on him and is affecting, not only his performance as our president providing national leadership but also his reelection bid and chances of getting a second term.
He was forced to demote his campaign manager for getting consistently low ratings in all the poll surveys, trailing behind Democratic candidate former Vice President Joe Biden in double figures. Something must be done for him to catch up and rally the people to his side, as the November election is only four months away! “Get a mask. Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact. They will have an effect and we need everything we can get.” the President said.
This is a surprise move from a person who never wore a mask in public ever since the pandemic started. It’s the complete opposite of his original position of not wearing a mask and his tendency to downplay the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic.
Indeed, this is a complete surprise, not only for me but for most Americans and all over the world.
These statements came after Trump was seen wearing masks in public for the first time during his visit to Walter Reed National Medical Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland days before the briefing.
Again, I think this is a planned move to cope up with his diminishing popularity. First, he wore a mask for the first time, a prelude to the briefing, then he urged the people to wear masks during the briefing. What next?
In his article, Evan Semones said: “It was a noteworthy evolution for the president, who has balked at wearing protective face coverings as a deadly pandemic surged across portions of the U.S. During a visit, President Donald Trump wore a face mask in front of assembled media for the first time. Though the move was expected and had been trailed in a series of media appearances this week, it was still a noteworthy evolution for the president, who has balked at wearing protective face coverings as a deadly pandemic surged across portions of the U.S.”
According to White House deputy secretary Judd Deere, the president continued to wear a mask while touring the hospital speaking with wounded veterans and all military personnel, Secret Service agents and White House staff surrounding the president, including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, all wore facial coverings.
“I think when you’re in a hospital, especially in that particular setting, where you’re talking to a lot of soldiers and people that, in some cases, just got off the operating tables, I think it’s a great thing to wear a mask,” Trump told reporters. “I’ve never been against masks, but I do believe they have a time and a place.”
While this was the first time, will it be the last time? Take your guess!
To strengthen measures to control the spread of COVID-19 in the State of Hawaii, Governor David Ige issued a supplementary proclamation requiring all residents and visitors to travel between any of the islands in the state to self-quarantine for 14 days, effective April 1. This follows a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine order for all visitors and residents arriving in Hawaii from the U.S. Mainland, U.S. territories, or other countries.
“Self-quarantine” means travelers must remain in their hotel rooms or residence, obtain food by delivery, and not have visitors.
Failure to follow the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000, or imprisonment of not more than one year, or both, according to the report.
State officials acknowledge that measures like this are extreme, but are necessary to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 outbreak and help the state recover more quickly. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) now recommends wearing a cloth face mask to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Hawaii has already taken two big steps. The first step was implementing an effective COVID-19 control plan in Hawaii by restricting interisland travel and between Hawaii and overseas destinations. To restrict this travel more tightly, on March 23, Governor Ige imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine on all incoming visitors and returning residents from the U.S. mainland and foreign countries. One week later, Gov. Ige imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine on virtually all interisland travelers, including Hawaii residents.
Gov. Ige also said that the state still believes the pre-travel testing program will help Hawaii stay safe. He announced that progress on the program is being made and more details will be in place by September 1.
The second step for an effective COVID-19 control plan in Hawaii was for county mayors and the governor to order all residents and visitors to stay at home and to take social distancing measures when in public places. Such measures, if implemented effectively, can radically reduce community transmission. Between March 4 and 25, the four county mayors imposed a variety of restrictive orders and voluntary recommendations that varied enormously across the four counties according to the Governor’s order.
The third step is the most challenging and fortunately is already underway. The Hawaii state government and private health organizations will expand the availability of testing in each of the four counties; routinely test all individuals with respiratory symptoms or fevers for coronavirus; for the Hawaii State Department of Health to proactively trace the contacts of all found infected with coronavirus, and enforce isolation and arrange for or provide care to ill and exposed people until the disease has run its course.
The fourth step in controlling COVID-19 is for the state to gradually relax stay-at-home and social distancing recommendations and orders and allow some economic activities that involve groups clustered in a location, e.g., a workplace, to resume.
However, this must be done with extreme caution. There are two important requirements for relaxing restrictions: 1) they should only be lifted once we have a strong monitoring system in place that can rapidly detect resurgence in the epidemic, and 2) restrictions must be released gradually and the effect of removing them monitored to insure the epidemic remains contained. If the epidemic resurges, we must be prepared to reimpose restrictions immediately. An effective and widely distributed vaccine will make restrictions unnecessary, but as Dr. Anthony Fauci has pointed out that is 12-18 months out in an optimistic scenario. Until an effective treatment or vaccine is developed or antigen and antibody testing becomes cheap, accurate, fast and widely available, some economic activities will not resume.
In conclusion, Hawaii will increase antigen and antibody testing, comprehensive historical contact tracing, mandated mask use, and isolation of exposed and infected individuals are the most vital measures that the state can take to control of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Once several measurable targets are achieved, we expect that Gov. Ige will be able to lift his stay-at-home order and this will facilitate the reopening of much of the state’s non-tourism economy.
Let’s stick to our last bastion of defense: wearing a face mask, 14-day self-quarantine, and social distancing, and we will be fine!
ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKOwas a veteran journalist in the Philippines and an award-winning journalist here in the US. For feedbacks, comments… please email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org).