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Uncertainty and anxiety follow Oahu’s latest stay-at-home mandate

It was a 30-hour roller coaster ride for thousands of Oahu private school students, parents, teachers and administrators this week as they tried to figure out how Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s latest “Stay At Home / Work From Home” emergency order was going to affect them.

The “ride” began early afternoon Tuesday when Caldwell announced that Oahu private schools would need to go completely to distance learning under the COVID-19-related order and ended Wednesday evening when Phil Bossert, executive director for the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools, sent an email to the heads of more than 100 schools informing them Gov. David Ige had issued a press release that essentially exempted them from Caldwell’s planned restriction.

“It’s been a wild ride,” Bossert said Wednesday night, as he let out a nervous, yet relieved chuckle. “Most of our schools had spent the whole day planning for distance learning and now they have to call all the parents and say ‘Hey, it’s not going to be distance learning, you can send your kids to school.’”

While the largest Oahu private schools, including Punahou School, Kameha­meha Schools, Mid-Pacific Institute and ‘Iolani School, already had made the decision to proceed with distance learning, most of the roughly 100 other independent institutions were planning to hold at least some of their classes on campus, Bossert said.

(Nearly all Department of Education public schools have been operating under distance learning with some exceptions since the school year began earlier this month.)

Caldwell said that his proposal required only private schools to conduct distance learning because Ige had been adamant that public schools be allowed to stay open as needed. But Ige, who has final authority on any COVID-19-related county proclamations and orders, stated in his late Wednesday press release that all schools are allowed to be open to in-house learning provided they follow safety guidelines and implement distance learning “to the greatest extent possible.”

The plight of the Oahu private school community over the last two days underscores the anxiety, uncertainty and confusion triggered by an order that affects practically every resident of the island, can mean life or death, could result in the possibly permanent shutdown of businesses and was hastily packed together into 16 pages.

While the order was announced shortly after noon Tuesday, the actual document was not made public until midmorning Wednesday and came with the caveat that it had not yet been signed by the governor. It was not until shortly after 3 p.m., with less than nine hours before taking effect, that the state and city administrations separately released a copy (808ne.ws/Oahuorder) signed by Ige.

Oahu real estate companies are still uncertain about what they’re allowed to do. But the Honolulu Board of Realtors met until late Wednesday going through the fine details of the order to determine what instruction to give to its members.

Under the initial March shutdown, realtors were allowed to show property and conduct transactions by appointment only, eliminating the “open house” element of their business.

But the latest order places real estate under a “professional services” category and says only in-person transactions are those “necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities” and lists appraisals and title services among them.

Late Wednesday, Honolulu Board of Realtors CEO Suzanne Young sent out an email to its membership announcing that all in-person public or broker open houses would be suspended for the next two weeks, similar to the policy put in place during the first stay-at-home order.

“Real estate businesses are still open and realtors continue to serve the housing needs of their clients, buyers, sellers, and landlords,” Young said in a statement. “We will simply revert to virtual showings and open houses using our technology tools and we will also be able to conduct showings by appointment only.”

The use of face coverings, sanitization and social distancing protocols will be followed, she said.

“We have learned over the course of these past months that the details really matter and so we always wait to review the actual signed emergency orders to ensure we have a thorough review and understanding of the orders,” Young said.

Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, also said the quick turnaround exacerbated an already teeth-grinding situation for many businesses in all industries.

“Having less than two days to prepare for a shutdown definitely caused stress, confusion and havoc on businesses to one, determine what do they do — say for restaurants what do they do for their inventory that they just got, two, how do they manage their employees, and then three, what exactly do they need to do right before the shutdown as well as during?”

“The second shutdown has definitely had a devastating blow on our business community, especially the small and local businesses,” Menor-McNamara said. “Many of them were starting to go with the flow, and starting to rebuild, and then this happens. And many of them are on their last lifeline.”

Caldwell’s order is, in many respects similar to the initial “Stay At Home, Work From Home” order that was first issued in March, and which was then, gradually over the last few months, amended and relaxed to allow certain businesses and activities to reopen.

There are 29 listed categories of essential businesses allowed to stay open. They include: grocery stores, supermarkets and other establishments that sell food; farming, livestock, fishing and other food cultivation; businesses providing the needy or economically disadvantaged with food, goods and services; news media; gas stations, auto and bicycle repair shops and towing services; banks and related financial institutions; hardware stores; private detective and guard agencies; fabric sellers and suppliers; in-person spiritual services; and film and television production.

Correction: Suzanne Young serves as CEO of the Honolulu Board of Realtors, not president as reported in an earlier version of this story.

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