In the state’s color-coded timeline for economic recovery, unveiled Monday, Hawaii is situated in a yellow zone — reopening indoor gathering places and exercise facilities, museums, theaters, personal services and restaurants for dining in. It marks a midway point between major disruption caused by broad stay-at-home orders and a minimally disruptive future, living with the coronavirus.
“Beyond Recovery: Reopening Hawaii” envisions the new normal as a fully reopened public life albeit tethered to safeguards including social distancing and mask-wearing. While billed as “strategy to reopen and reshape” the economy, the document includes no direct mention of the state’s economic engine — tourism — and that’s concerning.
The matter of when and how to restart the tourism industry looms larger with every passing day. Gov. David Ige owes Hawaii a follow-up action plan that maps out specifics regarding target dates for again welcoming tourists and hospitality conditions tied to ongoing COVID-19 concerns.
Further, the next document should be pieced together in a process that stresses transparency, including full-throated public discussion. Since mid-March, when social-distancing restrictions took hold, remote public participation in administrative meetings and hearings by way of virtual technology and telecommunication has become routine — and should continue.
Much of the just-released timeline focuses on hopes that the nontourism business sector will steadily recover from shutdown and possibly rebound to healthy levels within the next few years. Those aspirations seem within reach, given Hawaii’s ranking among states with the lowest per capita COVID-19 infection rates in the nation.
But the success of the kamaaina economy is firmly linked to that of the tourism industry, which is expected to be contending with economic stress for several years. Tactics for reopening of both sectors should be drafted simultaneously. Hawaii’s crushed economic health cannot afford an inefficient wait-and-see approach.
The current phases, as presented by Ige, start with stabilization and reopening, which build a sensible foundation for long-term recovery and resilience phases. However, when asked about lifting the 14-day quarantine for travelers from outside the state, the governor’s response lacked even a tentative date.
Instead, Ige said: “We are considering what conditions we would feel comfortable with lifting that quarantine.” In a separate online discussion, he said that any suggestion Hawaii would reopen for tourism by the late summer seems “premature.” If that’s the case, the public is due a clear explanation of the reasoning that supports this vague stance.
Ige and other state leaders have rightly gauged steps forward based on public health conditions including: the count of COVID-19 cases, the health care system’s capacity for handling caseload, and the ability to keep pace with prioritized testing and contact tracing.
Given that Hawaii appears to be faring well on all three measures, the governor should provide the public an accounting of elements that still need to fall into place to usher in a lifting of the quarantine that has essentially halted tourism in the islands.
On Oahu, hotels have few guests, and short-term vacation rentals are among the still-shuttered businesses deemed nonessential. Many operators of both lodging types that have already put in place intensive cleaning and inspection protocols will not be able to ride out prolonged hibernation.
It’s apparent that additional coronavirus infections are inevitable when travel restarts in and out of Hawaii. That, in turn, will require at-the-ready thoughtful risk management decisions. The bottom line: economic reopening will include starts and resets, and must now proceed with roadmaps for both nontourism and tourism sectors.