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Color-coded recovery plan for Hawaii to be unveiled

A cryptic, color-coded plan to reopen more parts of Hawaii’s economy will be unveiled this week, the House Finance Committee was told Tuesday.

Members of the Finance Committee met to figure out how $1.25 billion in federal CARES Act funding will be distributed across the islands in the fight against the new coronavirus.

The funding proposal is outlined in the current version of SB 75. About half of the money — $555.6 million — is earmarked to go into the state’s so-called rainy day fund but must be spent by the end of the year.

Over the last week there have been mysterious references to a color-coded playbook to reopen both individual counties’ and the state’s overall economy that was the subject of stalled discussions between the state Health Department and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. Various levels that have been mentioned in Capitol coronavirus hearings include the colors green, yellow and orange, with no mention of what the colors mean.

Alan Oshima, the “navigator” of Hawaii’s month-old economic recovery team, added another detail Tuesday. He told members of the House Finance Committee that the plan also includes “half-circles and full circles” … “depending on what industry you’re in.”

Asked by Finance Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Luke when the public will see the plan, Oshima said the “dashboard” will be posted by the end of the week after Gov. David Ige approves it.

State Health Director Bruce Anderson later said that Oshima was “being conservative. I would guess it’s quicker than that.”

Anderson said the plan is “on the governor’s desk for review.”

Anderson provided few other details other than “it’s a series or combinations of metrics.”

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, incident commander of Hawaii’s COVID-19 response, told the committee that the recovery plan is 98% complete, and held his thumb and forefinger nearly together to illustrate his point — a visual that Anderson later repeated.

On Monday, House Speaker Scott Saiki told members of the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness that there had been a stalemate on the plan Saturday involving the Health Department. Hara said Monday that he was frustrated that no agreement with the Health Department could be reached Saturday.

On Tuesday, Luke asked Saiki for his input, and Saiki said simply, “No comment.”

Oshima said HI-EMA and the Health Department will make recommendations to Ige, who ultimately will decide which parts of Hawaii’s economy to open next.

Oshima could not immediately answer why his office is also not involved in making recommendations.

He acknowledged that the federal COVID-19 funding for his office expires at the end of 2020, although he expects the office to continue operating for at least the next two years. Oshima could not explain how he plans to continue operating beyond Dec. 31.

The focus of his office, Oshima said, is “resetting the expectations of what Hawaii wants to be.”

Hara on Tuesday repeated his concerns that riots could erupt if Hawaii’s economy continues to stutter.

“We’ve got to accept risks to open the economy,” Hara said. “The longer we wait, the harder it will be for the economy to recover.”

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