Help is on the way
It can be hard to find a bright spot when everything’s going dark.
Restaurants, libraries, gyms, concert halls and museums have closed their doors. Going outside isn’t much better: City parks, campsites, farmers markets, botanical gardens, shooting ranges, the zoo, you name it — all shut down.
And that doesn’t even cover the hard losses: income and jobs, along with the risk of contracting a new highly contagious disease.
But it’s heartening to see how a shared crisis inspires a shared response, with government and private entities pulling in the same direction to mitigate the consequences of COVID-19.
Just a few of an ever-expanding list of examples:
The federal tax filing deadline has been extended to July 15. Interest on federal students loans has been temporarily waived. Evictions and foreclosures have been suspended temporarily for U.S. Housing and Urban Development-backed properties.
The state library system is extending due dates and holds, while maintaining access to online resources at librarieshawaii.org. Hawaii courts have extended certain filing deadlines and postponed cases. Oahu drivers whose licenses expire from now to June get an automatic 90-day extension, and drivers 72 and older can renew by mail.
Bank of Hawaii customers can get loan forbearance or extensions for up to three months. Restaurants are reaching out. For example, Denny’s Restaurants has waived delivery fees through April 12. Zippy’s has adjusted its takeout menu to speed up its service and minimize crowds. A coalition of food truck and catering operators will provide free food to kupuna. The state Department of Education will provide grab-and-go meals for its students in need.
The Hawaii Community Foundation, with the Omidyar Ohana Fund and Stupski Foundation, has created a $2.5 million Hawaii Resilience Fund to combat COVID-19. More donations will be accepted, so you can help, too: hawaiicommunityfoundation.org/coronavirus.
Let’s support businesses
Under the dark cloud of coronavirus concerns, more bits of silver lining.
Courtesies and support are being extended to those particularly at risk, such as senior citizens, or otherwise expected to be hit hardest during these days of social distancing.
Already, supermarkets including Foodland, Times and Safeway are reserving the first hour or two after store opening on certain days for elderly and those with serious chronic medical conditions; some retailers are following suit, such as Walmart and Target. These establishments should be clear with signage so that all customers can respect these reserve-hour policies.
And for consumers with wherewithal, this would be prime time to support favorite local businesses, retailers and restaurants alike. Pizza deliveries are tried-and-true, of course, but myriad other eateries also need business — maybe even to stay afloat, since in-dining is now banned on Oahu. To that end, stave off “shelter in place” cabin fever by ordering from a growing list of eateries that offer drive-through, take-out or delivery.
Amid anxiety, it’s important to extend helping hands — if not possible literally, than certainly figuratively.
Good time to build TMT
At the end of this public-health crisis, recovery will take every bit of worthy economic stimulus, which should not be squandered. That’s why Hawaii simply cannot allow the Thirty Meter Telescope to slip through its fingers.
Increasingly, though, that seems to be happening. Sober news came this week that cost of the world-class TMT planned for Mauna Kea has ballooned to $2.4 billion, about $1 billion more than long-estimated. That’s due to inflation, market cost increases for construction items and, of course, construction delays. Since July — though TMT has secured its final state permit after a decade of legal and administrative challenges — construction has been physically blocked by Native Hawaiian protesters who believe Mauna Kea to be sacred.
In addition to the rising price tag, TMT’s Japan partner has said that it has suspended project funding for a year. Plus, partners in India and China reportedly are leaning away from Hawaii, toward a less-problematic “Plan B” site in Spain’s Canary Islands.
It’s been an ongoing shame that TMT has been kept at bay here. After all, Hawaii’s modern astronomy industry was born from disaster: not a viral crisis like today, but from the devastating 1960 tsunamis that decimated the Hilo side and left the Big Island economy in shambles. And there is a proud history of astronomy embedded in Hawaiiana: the early Polynesians were skilled navigators who sailed the open oceans using knowledge of the stars.
Today, as Hawaii descends further into coronavirus’ economic pit, worthy shovel-ready projects will be key to helping the state rebound.
TMT surely rises to the top: Project manager Gary Sanders recently noted that the telescope is “shovel-ready, just not shovel-accessible.”
Gov. David Ige, and others responsible for the state’s recovery, must fight vigorously to keep TMT here.