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Editorial: Ige must take decisive actions

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Among the actions seized upon as Hawaii struggles to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak is a nighttime curfew on Kauai, during which all but individuals in select groups — delivery drivers, essential workers and those seeking medical attention — must remain in their residences.

Failure to comply with the 9 p.m-to-5 a.m. emergency rule runs the risk of penalties of up to a $5,000 fine and a year in jail. Yes, this an extreme step — but given the Garden Isle’s alarmingly bare-bones inventory of medical facilities, such decisive action is warranted.

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami on Wednesday acknowledged hardships tied to the curfew limiting gatherings, which takes effect today, but rightly stressed: “The longer it takes us to make these drastic decisions, the longer it will take us to get to a point of economic recovery.”

Gov. David Ige needs to be taking such decisive action. His tentative guidelines in addressing precautions against COVID-19 risks unacceptable confusion and corner-cutting among some residents. On Tuesday, the governor launched an 15-day campaign based on social-distancing — but so far, the directives are not mandates with consequences for non-compliance.

While the other counties appear to be fully intent on compliance, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim has advised that Big Island bars and restaurants as well as churches and places of worship are free to stay open; he stressed stepped-up cleanliness and social-distancing tactics.

Kim has maintained that such flexibility is needed, in part, because the county has many rural communities, which could be adversely affected by a rush on food and other supplies. But the pandemic threat looms large in Hawaii — and it will take a collective effort across all communities to prevent disastrous spread that could quickly overwhelm the health-care sector. This necessitates the removal of wishy-washy messaging.

On Oahu, a new sweeping emergency proclamation restricts restaurants and bars to offer only takeout, drive-thru or delivery food services — or shut their doors. Also, city facilities such as parks, golf courses, pools and the Honolulu Zoo are closed until April 30.

Needed pressure on Ige mounted Thursday, with House Speaker Scott Saiki urging him to take bold action to prevent community spread. Calling handling of the situation “chaotic,” Saiki urged Ige to institute an immediate statewide shutdown for the next 15 days; ensure basics such as food, medical services, gasoline and cargo; and to secure needed medical and hospital supplies.

The still-mysterious coronavirus has sickened people in more than 145 countries. In recent days, the count of known cases in the United States has doubled again, surging past 10,000 on Thursday. In Hawaii, at least 26 people have been infected. Despite the relatively low tally, health care providers are bracing for a rapid rise in cases.

Many are worried — with good reason — that Hawaii’s hospitals and medical facilities could be quickly overwhelmed by a flood of COVID-19 patients.

While Hawaii’s population count includes 1.4 million residents, the state has just 340 intensive care unit beds and 561 ventilators — machines that provide oxygen for patients unable to breathe on their own in severe respiratory distress. According to the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, Kauai is the most precariously situated with just nine ICU beds — which gives justification to that isle’s tough measures.

The Ige administration must heed the call of a petition, signed this week by nearly 100 Hawaii doctors and medical providers, to mandate the shutdown of all non-essential businesses; and order residents to stay home, postponing or canceling travel and social events.

Commitment to such a move would require an element of policing and penalties for noncompliance. While such tactics would further strip away a sense of normalcy from daily life, the hard truth is that these are not normal days.

As Hawaii strives to “flatten the curve” — slow the virus spread so that fewer people need to seek treatment at any given time, thereby not crashing our fragile health-care resources — public health concerns must now outweigh short-term economic worries and some personal liberties.

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