It’s hard to imagine a tougher decision point for any elected official, but it’s for precisely these decisions that they are elected.
Gov. David Ige, finally, has issued a “stay at home, work at home” order for Hawaii residents, effective Wednesday, to lower the risk of infection with COVID-19. For some time, many had been calling for such a directive, essential for the state to get ahead of the pandemic.
Ultimately, it’s good that the governor has transmitted a simple statewide message: With limited exceptions and for only certain purposes, everyone should stay at home. But it would have been stronger if it had come first, rather than following announcements by three county mayors.
The state’s focus will need to turn now toward a massive coordination effort among state, county and federal agencies to marshal the forces to protect residents’ health and, as much as possible, to help the local businesses bear up under the economic assault.
The Ige administration last week developed a policy to steel Hawaii against an increased exposure to the potentially lethal pathogen, the coronavirus.
After discussion among community leaders, the governor on Saturday announced a mandate for incoming flights to Hawaii, requiring all arrivals — visitors and returning residents alike — to enter a 14-day quarantine. This was plainly aimed at discouraging tourism, at least for the coming 30-day period.
There was a compelling reason for that. On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a similar mandate, worried that residents of other states with a lockdown might flee to have a vacation away from hometown pandemic restrictions.
Thus, Hawaii rightly established that neither would the islands become such a haven. But pulling up the drawbridge was never going to be enough.
Kauai, Maui and Oahu were out in front with their own restrictions; Kauai, with an especially fragile health-care network, was the first to implement a curfew as a way of reining in public gatherings where the highly contagious disease could spread.
On Sunday, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced a bold stay-home order for Oahu, the state’s largest population center, in effect since Monday afternoon. In response, Ige issued a statement endorsing the Oahu plan but said state-county discussions concluded that “the mayors should develop their own plans to meet the unique needs of their counties.”
Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said he held off implementing tough mandates on the Big Island because he did not believe the county had reached the necessary threshold for such a step.
Ordinarily, Ige’s initial home-rule approach might have made sense, but given today’s extraordinary race to get ahead of COVID-19 community spread, the entire state needed a unified statement. That sentiment was echoed by state lawmakers, as well as the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii.
Proposed steps included an extension of the state tax filing deadline, which the governor has now implemented.
Other ideas should be entertained. For example, the Chamber has urged mitigating measures, such as rent and mortgage relief, loan forgiveness and expansion of the coronavirus testing. Ige on Monday confirmed that of the 3,300 tests completed, only 77 have come up positive.
Residents are duty-bound to comply with the stay-at-home order, and with advisories on hygiene and social distancing: 77 seems a small number, but it could rise exponentially, and with lightning speed. And that could collapse the state’s health-care system.
As for the economic fallout from the shutdown, Hawaii, as all the states, will be in need of massive and sustained help from all levels of government. But the first imperative is saving lives. That crucial effort has begun, with unified force.