Teresa Lai picked up 90 rolls of toilet paper, a handful of jumbo hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes and extra medicines during an emergency shopping trip to Sam’s Club Wednesday to prepare for the possibility of a coronavirus outbreak in Hawaii.
“I started buying stuff as soon as they started talking about coronavirus so I actually have a lot more at home,” the 44-year-old Honolulu resident said. “I just don’t want to be caught in a situation where I can’t get out and there’s just things that I need.”
Toilet paper flew off the shelves at the Keeaumoku big-box store, which also was cleared out of hand sanitizers as soon as workers put out a new pallet.
Lai said she already was prepared for hurricane season with a garage full of water, freeze-dried foods and other emergency supplies, though this time around felt a little more worrisome.
“For some reason a hurricane seems more like physical destruction. This kind of scares me just because if you’re sick, it’s just scary not knowing what you can do. I actually had the flu this year and it was pretty bad so I can’t even imagine getting even sicker than that.”
Kailua residents Dennis Chiu and Pam Zoller were making their third trip to Costco this week to assemble their 14-day supply of food, coffee, toiletries and other necessities.
“We don’t know what’s gonna happen so we’re preparing for it. There’s a possibility it might be a worldwide pandemic, that’s what we’re afraid of, and we’re isolated here,” Chiu said, adding that he’s never seen so many people with toilet paper in their shopping carts.
Zoller added that preparing for a potential health care crisis is different from a natural disaster.
“A hurricane is short term and usually it’s not very lasting effects. This is different because if the island gets shut off from supplies that are brought in from China then we don’t have access to them.”
Chris Boulter, 37, made sure to pick up enough toilet paper, paper towels, water and food at Costco in Iwilei for his family of six living in Kailua.
“I mean it is what it is. Whatever happens, happens. What are you going to do? It’s a virus. We can’t control it,” he said. “I can’t sit here and panic cause that does me no good. We still gotta work, do our day-to-day lives. It’s probably a matter of time knowing that it has entered most of the countries. Being Hawaii is so close to China (and) the tourists out here, a lot of them are from the Asian countries … It’s a concern.”
Hawaiian Airlines said Wednesday it will temporarily suspend its five-times-weekly nonstop service between Honolulu and Seoul beginning Monday through April 30 due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in South Korea and reduced demand for the service.
Meanwhile, Gov. David Ige has asked lawmakers to earmark $7.2 million for the next four months to support state efforts to cope with the threat posed by the coronavirus outbreak.
Lawmakers said they received a message from Ige Wednesday morning seeking money for the state Department of Health and Department of Defense to fund activities such as surveillance of potential coronavirus encounters, quarantine, and “enhanced communication strategies” for both the general population and those most at risk for infection.
The money also would help the state prepare for “intensive source control if local epicenters in Hawaii are identified, including isolation of patients and persons” with the virus.
“If widespread community transmission is established, there should then be consideration of transition to include mitigation activities” such as canceling public gatherings, closing schools, remote working, home isolation” and monitoring of patients by phone, according to the governor’s message.
The initial appropriation of money will be handled by the state Senate, while the House will advance a separate bill to set aside money for similar activities for the year that begins July 1. House Finance Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Luke said she does not know how much money will be earmarked for next year.
“I believe so far the state has done a good job in trying to monitor and do quarantine containment, and at this point in time we’re unaware of any specific incidences of the virus (in Hawaii),” Luke told members of the House Finance Committee Wednesday afternoon.
“This also signals to the international community that because Hawaii is boosting up our efforts to do better containment, it will ease some of the angst in travel as well,” Luke told lawmakers.
Ige’s request includes $800,000 for a multimedia communication campaign, and $200,000 for quarantine and “self-monitoring” to include people who are not residents of the state or may be people who do “not have a viable home situation.”
Another $1.3 million would be earmarked for laboratory testing, and $2.5 million would be set aside for disease outbreak surveillance and response, while $1.18 million would go toward the DOD emergency response, including money for forehead and ear thermometers and personal protective equipment for responders.
The death toll from the deadly virus has surpassed 2,800 with more than 82,000 cases worldwide, including 60 in the U.S. Hawaii has so far not identified any cases in the islands, though health officials are urging the public to prepare enough food and supplies for two weeks of isolation.
Natalie Brown Ah Quin started prepping for the worst-case scenario — the virus spreading to Hawaii — at the end of January. She already has stockpiled three months of supplies, including preparations for her seven dogs, fish and hundreds of chickens in Hauula. Ah Quin and her husband Ryan also grow their own vegetables, fruits and herbs in an effort to be more self sufficient and live off the land.
“I told my husband that this time we needed to be overprepared. It’s that feeling you get in your gut when something bad is going to happen,” she said. “We bought toilet paper, baby wipes, sanitizers, our laundry detergents, all of the necessities we need, then we went to the foods — rice, canned foods,” she said. “I was thinking of different ways I can cook without going to the grocery store. It shows how important it is that we need to start learning how to grow some of our food. It’s not only the coronavirus. Our planet, we have so many people now. We all need to take part in doing this for ourselves. It is so critical. We just pray that everyone can coexist peacefully during this pandemic that is approaching all of us.”
Star-Advertiser reporter Kevin Dayton contributed to this story.