Gov. David Ige unveiled today a four-phase reopening strategy for Hawaii’s economy with the state gradually allowing medium-risk businesses such as churches, gyms, museums, theaters, restaurants and hair salons to begin operations in June.
However, the governor did not provide specific dates for when those activities would restart, but left it up to the counties to decide the criteria for reopening and timeframe for each industry.
“Hawaii has done an incredible job of flattening the curve, but we are also aware that battling COVID-19 has had significant socio-economic impacts,” Ige said at his daily COVID-19 briefing. “We know that this phased approach will allow us to restart the local economy and bring those who have been recently unemployed back to the employment rolls.”
The state has completed the first phase of “saving lives and flattening the curve” in the community, and has reopened low-risk businesses such as auto dealerships and car washes, floral shops, pet grooming, certain agriculture and retail and repair services over the last few weeks.
The governor attributed the success in stomping out the virus to his “stay at home” and “safer at home” orders, but that has come at a price. Thousands of businesses have shuttered and the shut down of the tourism industry has left tens of thousands of residents unemployed.
Hawaii is now entering phase two, known as the “act with care” period, with the reopening of the kama’aina economy and medium-risk businesses and activities. Gatherings of no more than 10 people are still prohibited and social distancing rules, along with the wearing of face coverings and other precautions, remain. High-risk populations, such as kupuna, should still stay home.
The third phase, involves long-term recovery — renewing and rebuilding Hawaii’s economy through economic diversification and the development of emerging industries. The plan does not specify what those new industries are or how the state plans to diversify the economy. This is when gatherings of up to 50 people — with six-foot physical distancing — would be allowed.
“At this level, the state will focus on re-opening highest risk businesses and activities, while remaining cautious and adjusting our safe practices as needed. This phase is expected to take much longer, since this phase covers the reshaping of Hawaii’s economy,” Ige said, adding that he does not anticipate reopening large venues, bars and nightclubs in June.
In the final phase, Hawaii will “emerge stronger and more resilient as a result of learning from and overcoming this unprecedented challenge,” which will be the new normal after the crisis is over.
“It’s not going to disappear. We’re going to have COVID-19 with us for many, many years to come, possibly our lifetimes,” Health Director Bruce Anderson said. “Our ability to manage the disease is going to be based on our ability to respond quickly and appropriately to new cases and contacts. As long as we can do that, it’s a disease we can live with much like the flu and all the other infectious diseases we have to live with these days.”
Under the 8th emergency proclamation, the mayors have the authority to make decisions about reopening or restricting activities with the governor’s approval.
“Under this strategy, counties may choose to relax stricter local orders at their own pace in coordination with my office,” Ige said.
Between reopening phases, the state will have a 14-day observation period to allow time to assess coronavirus cases and can reinstate restrictions including the closure of businesses if there’s a spike in disease activity that “threatens to overwhelm” the health-care system.
“We do anticipate an increase in the number of cases. We don’t have an explicit bar that needs to be adhered to. What we are looking for is our capacity to test, our ability to respond to a cluster or an outbreak and most importantly, our ability to identify close contacts and manage and contain the outbreak,” Ige said. “So long as we can manage that, there is no explicit threshold of COVID-19 positive new cases that would trigger stepping back.”
In learning to live with COVID-19, people must continue taking precautions including frequent hand washing, staying home when sick and isolating themselves when they develop symptoms, he said, adding that social distancing “in everything that we do” is still the most important measure to keeping the virus at bay.
In the meantime, state officials are hoping for treatments and containment measures that improve survival rates and decrease pressure on local hospitals and health care providers. There is also the possibility of the population developing a natural or “herd” immunity to the coronavirus if enough people get the disease. In the long term, the development of a vaccine would be the ultimate game changer in controlling the pandemic.
There were no new coronavirus cases in the islands for the third time in less than two weeks, as the statewide count remains at 640. On May 8, the Department of Health’s daily COVID-19 count had no new cases for the first time in eight weeks. Thursday’s daily count also had no new cases.
As of Monday, 49 infections in Hawaii are active with a total of 574 patients now classified as “released from isolation” since the start of the outbreak — more than 90% of those infected. The state’s coronavirus death toll remains unchanged at 17. Of the more than 40,511 COVID-19 tests conducted by state and clinical laboratories, just 1.6% have been positive.
The governor also extended the 14-day quarantine for travelers to Hawaii, including those flying between the islands, and the moratorium on residential evictions through June 30.