In a survey commissioned by the state Department of Health and conducted in April, nearly three-quarters of Hawaii residents viewed COVID-19 as a “very serious” health concern. It’s alarming that in a follow-up poll, done in late May and early June, that view dropped to 54%.
A dangerous corollary is a backsliding in adherence to preventive practices. Among the slips between the first and second reporting periods: a decline in setting physical-distancing at 6 feet and avoiding large gatherings; a decline in staying away from friends and family members who aren’t a part of the household; and even a drop in avoiding handshakes and hugs.
Right now, and at least until a vaccine and effective treatment can trounce this insidious public health threat, a genuine show of aloha means steadfast compliance with DOH-advised mitigation strategies, critical ones such as stepped-up hand-washing routines and mask-wearing in public places.
In a statement about the surveys — and pointing to a recent increase in coronavirus cases here tied to community transmission — Health Department Director Bruce Anderson said: “We cannot interpret the reopening of businesses, restaurants, parks and other places as a license to let our guards down. … It is more important than ever to adhere to prevention measures we know work.”
Indeed, with much of the locally focused economic sector attempting to restart, interisland travel now underway and plans in the works to ease quarantine restrictions on trans-Pacific travel, the virus actually poses a greater threat to the islands than it did months ago — when the initial wave of COVID-19 cases peaked locally.
Moving forward, Hawaii’s only realistic chance of holding onto its ranking among states with the nation’s lowest per capita cases tally and death rates hinges on preventive follow-through.
Safely welcoming back more tourists— who also must be mindful once here — is key to reviving our overall economy. So it’s encouraging that the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau is drafting a campaign to explain requirements for securing a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before traveling to avoid a 14-day quarantine upon arrival, starting Aug. 1.
Trans-Pacific travelers need to absorb a “new normal” message that underscores the importance for visitors to comply with the same personal hygiene and social distancing practices that residents deal with. In addition to a lei, a plumeria-print mask would serve as an apt greeting to spread aloha, not the virus.
In several mainland states, a recent surge in infections has been driven in part by people unwilling to heed public-health guidelines to wear masks and continue social distancing. Places such as Texas, Florida and California are backtracking on reopening efforts, closing beaches and bars, and in some cases, now ordering the wearing of masks.
The World Health Organization warned this week that the pandemic is speeding up. There have been more than 10 million confirmed infections worldwide, with more than a half-million deaths. The U.S. alone accounts for more than one-quarter of all confirmed cases, with nearly 126,000 deaths.
In Hawaii, thanks to the persistence of health officials along with government messaging, residents are now well-versed in mitigation tactics. The follow-up survey conducted for the DOH found that upwards of 90% of respondents could recall one dozen prevention-related recommendations (see health.hawaii.gov/coronavirusdisease2019/).
Now is the time to recommit to preventive practices as must-do habits for the foreseeable future. For residents and visitors alike, viewing the virus as anything less than an ongoing, severe health concern is a foolish mistake.