For those who don’t trust public officials to manage the COVID-19 crisis, rest assured: The feeling is mutual.
Howls of protest greeted Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s latest stay-at-home order, effective Sept. 10 for two weeks. Many felt it made no sense to reopen parks, beaches and hiking trails for only individual activities. Couples can walk together on a sidewalk, but not on the beach? Small children, who need to be accompanied, are effectively banned? Isn’t hiking or swimming riskier without a partner?
All fair questions. But Caldwell, who eased restrictions earlier this year only to see large uncontrolled social gatherings and a sharp spike in community-spread COVID-19 cases, offered no apologies.
“The one thing we’re not going to do a second time is rush to reopen and then have another spike and have that occur during the holiday season,” he said when announcing the restrictions. “So we’re going to be much more cautious, much more conservative and much more careful in terms of protecting the health of our community.”
He’s not wrong. It’s an unfortunate reality that government-imposed restrictions remain the most effective way to change public behavior to tamp down the coronavirus. After all, if every Hawaii resident faithfully followed the simple guidelines that we know by heart — wear a mask in public, keep a 6-foot distance and wash your hands a lot — it’s likely there would be no need for draconian restrictions. But too often people don’t, and Caldwell has set restrictions based on the city’s ability to enforce them.
Of course, it’s hard to ask people to give up so much of their social lives. It’s especially difficult to strike the right regulatory balance when it comes to outdoor activities, which are healthy and a fundamental part of living in Hawaii, particularly for large families living in close quarters during a hot summer. And getting crucial buy-in — in other words, trust — can be nearly impossible if the public perceives the orders to be arbitrary or illogical.
This latest order will expire on Sept. 24. It’s hoped that the infection rate will have dropped enough for Caldwell to ease the restrictions further, carefully, perhaps starting with allowing two people, rather than just one, to take a walk in the park.
There is a lot riding on getting the timing right. Businesses need to reopen soon, including the tourist trade. These on-again, off-again lockdowns cannot continue.