Hawaii lawmakers have again shut down bars, parks and beaches, and re-imposed an interisland travel quarantine after a surge in reported coronavirus cases. These lockdowns are well intended, but they also are causing a lot of pain.
I don’t envy Gov. David Ige and other Hawaii leaders having to make these kinds of decisions. We do, however, need to fine-tune the management of this difficult situation, so as to better balance immediate public health concerns with the longer-range concerns about our livelihoods and social bonds. In that respect, we are not criticizing our governor or mayors for the difficult decisions they are making. Instead, we are asking, “At what cost?”
Day after day we learn of businesses that have filed for bankruptcy or shut their doors for good; the tens of thousands of people who have lost their jobs and incomes; the conflicts between landlords and renters, both of whom are finding themselves unable to pay their bills; and the billions of dollars our state is having to pay to try to mitigate all this pain.
In mid-June, when the lockdowns were entering their fourth month, independent business owner Sarah Schroeder on Kauai told the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, “I have been greatly affected by this lockdown, not only financially in regards to my business, but also emotionally due to the stress of not knowing how or if I will ever recover.”
A single mother of a toddler, Scroeder added, “It has been months full of severe anxiety, depression and worry over my future and what I have lost after years of hard work and sacrifice.”
Cliff Slater, chairman of Maui Divers, Hawaii’s largest jewelry retailer, told us, “Other than our Honolulu business, more than 90% of the company’s revenue comes from tourism. Aside from our online business, we’re out of business currently. We had to furlough 300 employees.”
Bill Comerford, owner of four popular bars on Oahu that used to employ about 80 people, told Hawaii News Now just a few days ago, “I’m actually going to be applying for unemployment on Monday morning. That’s my goal right now because I’m unemployed … I can’t pay myself, can’t pay my company, can’t pay my landlords, can’t pay my insurance and my taxes.”
One issue of concern is that the policymakers are not the ones who are personally bearing the brunt of the pain. They continue to receive paychecks regardless. Understandably, this has led to some resentment among the many Hawaii residents who have lost their jobs or businesses because of the lockdowns.
This is obviously unhealthy for our community, since people are dividing along what they perceive to be the real class lines: Not management versus labor or rich versus the poor, but private sector workers versus unaccountable government officials. At times, it seems like we are not really all in the same canoe after all.
That issue aside, Hawaii residents have complied with these sweeping measures intended to control the spread of the coronavirus since early March; we now are in the sixth month of having our lives circumscribed in the name of public health. Besides giving up our individual liberties, many of us have lost our jobs, seen our savings decimated and our passions for sports, travel, music and other activities and social events put on hold. We no longer even have a transparent, accountable government, as countless government decisions are being made without public input.
Whether you agree or disagree with the lockdowns, our policymakers need to realize this can’t go on forever. They have to decide — and make it clear to all — what they are trying to achieve. Is it to eradicate COVID-19 completely? Or rather to achieve some level of what is known as “herd immunity,” so as a society we can get on with our lives?
As the scientific and medical community achieves greater understanding about how the virus works, we can focus on protecting those among us who are most vulnerable to its dangers. Let us work together to decide how we can do that — without indefinitely shutting down our beloved state entirely and causing more pain to the people of Hawaii than they already are suffering.
Yes, protect the public … but at what cost?