It was a painful double-hit this week for the nation, set to chaos by the brutal killing of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer on May 25, and by the ongoing economic devastation wrought by coronavirus shutdowns.
Those two dramatic situations converged across the country, as mega crowds marched for justice after Floyd’s death — some with masks, but more often, without. After months of stressing the imperative of social distancing and protective masks, U.S. health and government leaders were rightly frightened that the mass gatherings would set off second waves of the highly contagious, unpredictable and deadly coronavirus.
Said California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday: “If you’re not (concerned about protests spreading the virus), you’re not paying attention to the epidemiology, to the virulence of this disease.”
The racial firestorm aside, the increased public-health risk complicates already difficult decisions for Hawaii, now being pressed to reopen trans-Pacific tourism. On June 16, the state will lift its 14-day quarantine for interisland travelers by enacting a host of safety protocols, such as temperature checks, health-background forms and contact tracing information. To be sure, the success of interisland travel without a coronavirus surge will be crucial to informing, and lifting, the 14-day quarantine still in place for incoming travelers to Hawaii.
This past week, the Floyd protests for racial equality and police reforms spread beyond the U.S. — and with them, worries about COVID-19 spread from packed protests. In Belfast, Northern Ireland, for example, one top Public Health Agency official stressed that the coronavirus “hasn’t got any conscience and … doesn’t recognize good causes.”
Hawaii folks, though, seem to have absorbed well the need for health safety even amid the somber calls for justice. Event posters urge participants to come out for a righteous case, but safely. “Wear a mask and bring signs,” urged organizers for a noon-4 p.m event today at Ala Moana Beach Park. “Wear a mask & bring art supplies,” read another poster for a 10 a.m. event today at Kapiolani Park.
Hawaii’s continued carefulness is crucial, even as mainland protest hotspots will need to be closely watched over the next few weeks, for coronavirus spikes. Meanwhile, the international “travel bubbles” Hawaii is considering with lower- caseload countries — Japan, Australia, New Zealand, for instance — are making more sense. Hawaii might be ever-more dependent on travelers from that side of the world if COVID outbreaks pop promising U.S. travel bubbles.