By Carlota Ader
“Stay the course and remain on the straight-and-narrow.”
That basically sums up the latest directive from Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who urged the public to remain vigilant while he announced an extension of his “stay-at-home/work-at-home” order an additional two weeks, through September 23.
Non-essential businesses such as retailers, salons and gyms remain closed, while restaurants can continue to only offer take-out orders. On the plus side, City parks, beaches and hiking trails will reopen strictly to individuals only. Social gatherings are also banned.
“These rules will ideally be relaxed as we continue to see the prevalence of COVID-19 decline,” said Mayor Caldwell at a press conference on the grounds of Honolulu Hale.
The fight against the virus, Caldwell emphasized, is far from over as the state’s total COVID case count has surpassed the 10,000 marker. On the positive side, the 66 new cases reported on September 8 marked the lowest total since August 2. The mayor called it a “shift in the right direction.”
“While this is certainly a positive sign, we cannot drop our guard at this pivotal moment. This means that what we’re doing is working, and we need to keep it up,” said Caldwell.
There have been a growing number of individuals calling for the economy to reopen but Caldwell remains cautiously optimistic in moving forward. If the state reopens too soon and COVID-19 cases spike once again, an extended lockdown may be necessary.
In early July, Mayor Caldwell announced a new mandate requiring the use of face coverings at all indoor public spaces, including private offices, enclosed malls and government buildings. Masks are also required outdoors when physical distancing is unlikely or difficult to maintain.
A number of major health organizations have endorsed the use of masks. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the World Health Organization, the use of face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand-washing and social distancing, can help slow the spread of the virus.
In July, State epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park urged the public to continue wearing masks, keeping their distance from those not in their household and washing their hands.
“Don’t let your guard down,” she advised.
Jeanette Esquivel, a medical technician who is a frontline healthcare personnel, agrees with the government’s facemask mandate, as well as a number of her colleagues in the medical field.
“If only everyone would comply with regulations, then we can better control the spread of the virus,” she said. “It is known that wearing masks is an effective deterrent, especially since the virus is spread through droplets from even a slight cough that can reach our eyes, nose and mouth.”
In sectors such as the tourism industry which employs many Filipinos, the use of masks is a stringent requirement. In fact, as early as February, the union representing hotel workers asked resort executives to allow employees to wear surgical masks as a protection against the virus.
COVID-19 has impacted the lives of untold millions of students, teachers and school faculty nationwide. In Hawaii, the Department of Education (DOE) has held Learn From Home classes for most students statewide through the end of the first quarter on October 2.
During this initial four-week phase, DOE officials have offered learning hubs on campus to provide connectivity for students who need it. Schools will also continue educational programming for vulnerable students.
“As the situation evolves or as new guidance becomes available, we will need to continually adjust our plans to ensure that we are providing a safe learning and working environment for our HIDOE ʻohana, within the context of our learning organization and mission,” says DOE superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto.
The department is working closely with state and federal agencies to safely reopen campuses for the 2020-2021 school year.
Nearly 3,000 miles away on the East Coast in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, Teresa A. Doumont, who is the principal of Ben Franklin Elementary School, instituted a similar plan for the district. She suggested “Full Remote Learning” for one month starting September 1 through October 2, 2020.
Doumont, who is of Filipino ancestry, says her school would then move to a “Blended A/B schedule” for students, with two days of in-classroom instruction on campus and three days of remote learning from home.
Her school is offering distance learning opportunities for students who cannot attend school due to health and safety concerns. Each instructional model included in her school’s District Health and Safety Plan features the use of a Central Learning Management System and various other digital tools that will engage students in both synchronous and asynchronous learning instructions.
“I feel that it is the best plan moving forward for my students,” Doumont said. “Most importantly, it has the full support of the school district and parents.”
If things go according to plan, Ben Franklin Elementary will go back to a full five days a week schedule.
For parents like Mary Ann Cabales, who has two children in public school, distance learning is something she has come to accept. Obviously, her children are safer at home instead of being with classmates who may have the virus. But for her, distance learning may not be as bad as some think may think it is.
What’s surprising, Cabales said, is that teachers seem more “in tune” with their students online.
“I’ve noticed that teachers can see students faces more clearly and if they are ‘tuned in’ to the lesson a lot better than if students were in the classroom sitting a few rows away or in the back of the classroom,” Cabales said.
But other parents say there is no substitute for in-person learning. Gov. David Ige, for example, realizes the impact that distance learning is having on students and families and addressed the matter at an August press conference.
“Keeping students at home will be another burden and clearly the uncertainty stresses all of us. But with this recent surge [of COVID cases] on Oahu, I do believe that this is the right approach,” he said.
By Carlota Ader