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Hawaii hits public health benchmarks, but reopening plan requires longer wait

  • JAMM AQUINO / MAY 2
                                A testing specimen is secured during a drive-thru coronavirus testing put on by Kalihi Kai Urgent Care at Ala Moana Center.

    JAMM AQUINO / MAY 2

    A testing specimen is secured during a drive-thru coronavirus testing put on by Kalihi Kai Urgent Care at Ala Moana Center.

  • STAR-ADVERTISER / 2019
                                Dr. Mark Mugiishi, president and CEO of HMSA.

    STAR-ADVERTISER / 2019

    Dr. Mark Mugiishi, president and CEO of HMSA.

Green doesn’t necessarily mean go.

Hawaii has hit all the public health benchmarks on a color-coded plan to reopen more parts of the economy with minimal disruption. The plan ranges from red, which produces major disruptions, to orange to yellow to green to blue, where Hawaii hits a new normal and there are finally no disruptions. It doesn’t apply to tourism, which requires an even more thoughtful approach to reopening.

The state meets the criteria for the green level according to the disease-activity and capacity benchmarks on the state’s color-coded reopening plan. There are no new hospital cases, median cases averaged one per day from May 11-17, there’s enough available hospital capacity, there’s more than 50% available capacity for contact tracing and for testing.

However, the state’s color-coded reopening plan, requires that the state wait 10-to-14 days after entering each phase to move to the next, Mark Mugiishi, president and CEO of HMSA told the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness today.

Hawaii completed its current orange safer-at-home phase May 15 and is now in the waiting period. The state is slated June 1 to enter the act-with-care yellow phase, which allows for the reopening of medium-risk activities and businesses.

The waiting period means it would be at least another 10 to 15 days beyond the start of the yellow phase before Hawaii could enter the minimal-disruption phase green, which allows for the reopening of large venues, bars and clubs.

“If there’s no worsening then, the governor and the county majors can make the determination to go to green,” Mugiishi said.

If all goes well during the green phase, it would be another 10 to 15 days beyond that at least, before Hawaii could enter the blue phase. It’s assumed by then that people would have adjusted to safe practices to create a new normal where economic disruptions aren’t required.

“This is separate and apart from what the strategy might be for reopening the tourist economy, ” Mugiishi said. “This is specifically for our behaviors here in the kamaaina economy.”

Mugiishi said safe practices, however, will be a constant at all levels of any reopening plan. Practicing hand hygiene, staying home when ill, covering your face, cleaning surfacing, practicing physical distancing, protecting high-risk individuals and engaging in isolation and quarantining when warranted “are critical regardless of what level you are at so we can protect secondary surges.”

Rep. Bob McDermott (R- Ewa, Ewa Beach, Ewa By Gentry, Iroquois Point) made a play for a plan he developed with Rep. Gene Ward (R-Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley) called “Making Hawaii Safe for Travel. The 23-page plan relies on COVID-19 testing to restart Hawaii’s visitor industry without creating a second wave of COVID-19.

McDermott believes the Abbot COVID-19 rapid testing machine could be used and will become more readily available and accurate in the next 30 to 90 days.

“W are going to knowingly import the virus without doing this. Temperatures and filling out guest forms is not enough. The quarantine is a voluntary honor system,” McDermott said. “We have 1 to 2 new cases a day. When we go from 1 to 500 cases in a week and then 1,500 where will we be at?,” McDermott said.

McDermott admitted that the “mechanics and implementation on the issue are a little muddled,” but said they could be worked out.

Rep. Richard Onishi (D-Hilo, Keaau, Kurtistown, Volcano) said “I still think we are a ways off before coming to any kind of consensus on how this is going to be done.”

Carl Bonham, executive director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, acknowledged the complexities of developing a plan to restart tourism, but said time is of the essence.

“We can work on this for the next four weeks if we have to, but we can’t wait four months to start working on it,” Bonham said.

Bonham recommended further discussions about creating tourism bubbles to allow for more relaxed entry requirements for destinations like New Zealand and Australia that have low rates of COVID-19. He said developing a testing plan also needs to be part of dialogue.

“We have to get over our fear of using tests as a screening device and use every means possible for screening so that we can begin to put people back to work later this summer and into the fall. If we wait four months, we’re in very deep trouble,” he said.

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