Last week, Hawaii shifted to a new phase of dealing with this global pandemic. Gov. David Ige’s administration began talking publicly about Hawaii’s economic recovery, pointing to the state’s relatively low number of COVID-19 cases overall as key to marketing Hawaii as the “healthiest state in the country” and “safest place on earth.”
If Hawaii does come out of this pandemic as the safest place on earth, it would be a great triumph and the best silver lining imaginable.
The thing is, it needs to be more than a slogan or a re-branding. It has to be true. It has to be without an asterisk or any fine print. It has to be an ongoing mission.
Hawaii can’t be the state that most effectively dealt with COVID-19 but unable to deal with the legions of homeless people living in unsanitary conditions.
If Hawaii is going to be marketed as the “safest place” to tourists, we can’t still have an average of one tourist drowning in Hawaii waters every week, as has been the case in recent years. Nor would it fit the slogan if tourists continue to be injured or killed in hiking accidents and helicopter crashes, which have become all too frequent.
If Hawaii is truly going to be the safest place on earth, it can’t be a place where little old ladies get knocked down and their purses snatched from their arms — it was only six months ago when a rash of those assaults happened, lest we forget. The Honolulu Police Department needs to be up to full strength for Hawaii to be bragging about “safest.”
It has to be safe for the people who live here, not just tourists who come to spend money. It means children won’t grow up in poverty eating uncooked ramen noodles for dinner every night. It means it is safe for women and girls walking to their cars at night or running through the park for exercise or being alone with a colleague in an elevator or conference room.
And Hawaii needs to have the best stats when it comes to diabetes and heart disease and cancer and all that for it to be the healthiest.
If Hawaii is the safest place on the entire planet — and there’s no reason we can’t aspire to that — it has to mean more than “you won’t catch coronavirus if you vacation here.” It has to mean — and I think this is the intention — that coronavirus won’t be hopping a plane, checking in to a hotel and spreading around our community.
Hawaii’s response to the pandemic has been exemplary because we as a community have been so careful and compassionate. As Ige put it: “It is very clear that everyone in Hawaii has been doing their part responding to the call, reducing their interactions with other people, paying attention to the stay-at-home orders … being responsible for everything you do.”
This adherence to social- distancing guidelines and stay-at-home rules has come from the aloha that we talk about but too rarely see. Hawaii people obeyed the rules not as unquestioning sheep, not out of fear, not because folks were happy to lounge at home and do nothing, but out of a sense of duty, responsibility and, yeah, honor.
People with that kind of honor deserve to live in the safest place in the world.