The road to restarting the Hawaii economy, in a way that avoids uncontrolled outbreaks of coronavirus infections, will be filled with twists and turns. The latest twist, not entirely unexpected, is that the governor has extended Hawaii’s stay-at-home order through May 31.
One had hoped, though, that the process wouldn’t become so needlessly jarring, with one jolt following another over the weekend.
Gov. David Ige has pledged to improve the coordination of state-county planning; indeed, cleaning up the confusing landscape of plans and policies is plainly needed. But the miscues within the Ige administration itself, concerning a proposed allowance for florists to conduct Mother’s Day deliveries and business, can’t be filling the public with much hope.
This month’s chaotic sequence of events involving disconnects between the state and counties include the use of beaches. There was disagreement, too, between Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and state health officials over the use of test kits for detecting cases of COVID-19, the potentially deadly disease caused by the coronavirus.
State beach-park usage rules now align with Oahu’s, and it’s fervently hoped that further discussions will help to rectify quickly the standoff over testing. But the florists’ debacle was an unmitigated fumble, one that disregarded the disruption that the state’s misdirection caused to these small businesses.
On Saturday the governor issued his sixth emergency proclamation, extending the lockdown; amending the parks rules among other issues; and most significantly, directing that counties would need his approval, or that of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency director, before making any of their own emergency orders, rules or proclamations.
There does need to be more clarity on the rules: The public, and the companies it would like to see reopened, have to know with some certainty what is being allowed. Enforcement, already challenging, will become all but impossible if the boundaries are left blurry, undefined or contradictory.
But the mayors have felt compelled to play leadership roles at successive stages of the outbreak when it appeared Ige was not going to do so. They undoubtedly were anxious to begin the reopening process.
Ige now seems determined to take the helm, but Caldwell quickly opposed the governor’s newest proclamation as “undermining the mayors’ ability to lead.” Each county is distinct, he objected, and must be able to react nimbly as conditions change.
Coordination involves open-minded discussions between county and state administrations. The ultimate decision must be based on what makes sense for navigating this pandemic with an eye on both safety and the economic survival of our communities.
That means it rests on the mayors to make their case for why particular businesses can or should open and how the conditions should be set. The governor now will review those — per his extended proclamation — but he must avoid confused outcomes.
That clearly isn’t what happened in the case of the florists, in which the communications breakdown happened not between state and counties, but between the governor and a state underling who gave the go-ahead. Ige did not say who gave the green light or explain his Saturday rescind of the Mother’s Day go-ahead: Why can’t flowers be delivered with minimal contact, as many produce deliveries are now?
Then on Monday came word from Ige that after “late-afternoon conversations with the mayors, we decided that florists will be able to begin operations on May 1, as long as they can do so in a way that is safe for employees and customers.”
While this is a relief for florists, such policy whiplash is not good for small businesses, all of them already on edge. Government must do better.