Hawaii’s Tourism Reopens; Let’s Practice Safety As COVID-19 Peaks in the Fall-Winter Surge

Kudos to our health care specialists and the media for keeping the public informed on the latest in the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, certain politicians and interest groups have undermined efforts to treat the pandemic as a genuine public health crisis and turned it into a war of misinformation for political gain. But both our public health experts and the media have kept steady and focused on the scientific and medical facts.

While many of us speak of suffering pandemic-fatigue, now is not the time to slip into complacency. For months now the top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci and others have been warning the public about lowering the number of coronavirus infections before the fall and winter. The reason being is that the cold weather (keeps more people indoors spreading the virus) coupled with the flu season could create the perfect storm for a deadly coronavirus surge.

Highlights of the current statistics are alarming:

• As of Oct. 11, there has been 7.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 218,746 deaths in the U.S.
• More than half (31 states) of the country are seeing increases in coronavirus cases by at least 10 percent, Johns Hopkins University tracking shows. Ten of 50 states have been reporting record one-day rises. States with rising rates have seen upticks for two straight weeks.
• Hospitalization is trending up with nine states near capacity.
• The U.S. has broken records for daily COVID-19 cases six times in the past two weeks. The nation recorded its highest-ever daily count on July 8: more than 60,000 infections.

Because we’ve failed to bring down the spread of the virus, the projected surge is grim. Dr. Fauci said we could have 300,000-400,000 COVID-19 deaths by the end of the year or early winter. That is double the current fatalities in a much shorter amount of time.

But experts say if we are disciplined in wearing facial covering (95 percent mask use), that number could be reduced by 100,000.

Getting our annual flu shot will also curb fatalities. Without the flu shot (influenza vaccine) we are more vulnerable to getting the coronavirus and the flu. Contracting both would be catastrophic to our immune system and body and lessens our chances to recover.

Many people forgo getting their flu shot even if it’s discounted or free for those with health insurance. But this year is different. Consider getting your shot as your contribution to the community in stopping the spread of the virus.

Bad timing?
As COVID-19 is set to reach its peak, Gov. David Ige rolled out the new pre-travel testing program that allows Hawaii-bound travelers who provide negative virus test results within 72 hours of arrival to sidestep two weeks of quarantine. But travelers will also have the option to undergo the usual 14-days quarantine in lieu of providing a negative test result.

This poses a problem because it’s conceivable that a traveler unaware of being infected choosing to quarantine, could board the plane and infect travelers who tested negative.

This is a glaring loophole in safety and must be corrected immediately should infection levels rise dramatically in Hawaii following the implementation of the new pre-travel testing program.

It’s hard to fault the governor for reopening tourism during the worst time. Hawaii’s economy is on life support, unemployment staggering (among the highest in the nation), and too many businesses have closed down permanently. The governor has been under tremendous pressure from the business community and unemployed workers to do something major. As unemployment benefits (and health insurance) are coming to an expiration in a few months for some; and as businesses continue to report losses while still having to pay for rent and fixed costs – their plea is justified.

No one knows how the expected winter surge will play out in Hawaii especially after the new pre-travel testing program. But if we get the word out to the public to be extra cautious, not give into pandemic fatigue and continue practicing (even more vigilantly) social distancing and mask use, we can at least minimize the grim forecast.

In the 1800s there was a French engineer and economist named Jules Dupuit who came up with the concept of cost-benefit analysis. It’s a model used in many disciplines even today and most commonly in policy-making.

It’s agonizing to apply cost-benefit analysis during this pandemic because basically it’s putting at odds human life for economic livelihood in policy. But leaders must make tough decisions in this most challenging time. When our leaders are truthful with the community and in their intentions (Gov. Ige has been), we may not agree with them, but at the very least they deserve some credit.

Hawaii’s handling of the coronavirus in the Spring received national praise (practically the lowest infection rate in the nation). But it did come at a cost (Hawaii is among the hardest hit economically). The governor has responded by reopening tourism this month. Let’s hold back from caustic judgement, wait and see how this plays out. At the same time, do everything in our power to be responsible by staying healthy.

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