Sometimes it is better to seek forgiveness than to get permission.
That appeared to be the case this week, when the state shut down the H-3 freeway over two days — despite being denied permission to do so by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) — to provide free coronavirus tests for anyone who wanted them.
And a lot of people did. On Tuesday, about 1,700 people pre-registered for the simple, self-administered nasal swab; on Thursday, that number jumped to more than 5,000. Vehicles lined the highway for about three miles on the windward side, and two miles townside on Thursday. Wait times exceeded 2-1/2 hours.
Still, to quote Jerry Reed: We’ve got a long way to go, and a short time to get there. The federal government is providing Hawaii with up to 90,000 tests, free of charge, in response to the state’s serious increase in the percentage of tests with positive results. About two weeks have been allotted for the testing.
Already, tests have been administered in public parks as well as Aloha Stadium (beginning Friday and through Labor Day weekend). For city and state officials, H-3 provided a sensible option: high capacity without tying up surface streets in neighborhoods.
The FHA objected, citing traffic and safety concerns, as well as disruptions to Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe. (The freeway, paid for mostly with federal funds, has a national defense purpose — to connect the Marine base with Pearl Harbor).
But Ed Sniffen, the state Highways Division deputy director, offered a straightforward response: Necessary safety precautions were taken, traffic was not seriously disrupted, and the state coordinated with the Marines to accommodate their caravans.
Sniffen also did something unusual for a public official these days: He publicly accepted blame for the conflict with the FHA and explained the possible consequences, which could include losing some of the $180 million the FHA provides the state each year.
“I didn’t give them enough information for them to understand the big impacts,” Sniffen said.
Those impacts — a sharp rise in triple-digit numbers of cases reported daily — affect policy decisions about everything from hospital capacity to reopening tourism. And, many experts say, the more data, the better. According to recent reports, fewer than 1% of surge test results are coming back positive. It’s a cause for hope, but it’s not conclusive. No test is 100% accurate, and presumably a lot of healthy people are taking the test because they can.
Finally, it’s important to remember why the case numbers, scary as they are, aren’t catastrophically higher. It’s because we’re wearing masks, keeping 6 feet apart and washing our hands.
There’s just no substitute for that.