Hawaii is at a critical point in our battle with the coronavirus, and over the past couple of weeks, we’ve made progress on many fronts and are finally turning the corner.
This pandemic is the biggest challenge Hawaii has faced in a generation. I know many are feeling COVID fatigue, but we can’t let up now. We must remain hyper- focused and continue to make responsible choices to protect public health. With everyone’s continued sacrifice and diligence, the number of new cases will continue to decline. This is the only way to ensure we don’t slide backwards.
Last week, I announced the Oct. 15 start of our pre-travel testing program. This program was developed over several months with input from many sectors. It balances the need for protecting public health while alleviating the economic hardship on our state. Travel will increase gradually throughout the year, assuming we can prevent a resurgence in cases. The pre-travel testing, existing travel self-quarantine protocol, and our improved tracing capability should help to minimize infection risks from incoming visitors and returning residents.
We must recall that the surge of infections that began in July was homegrown and not related to tourism, so our recovery will continue to depend on the healthful practices of residents — washing hands, wearing masks, and maintaining our distances.
Compounding the challenge is the scope of the pandemic, which has crippled businesses, caused unemployment to skyrocket, closed most in-person learning in our schools, halted tourism, and threatened our people’s health — all at the same time.
While the state did its best to manage this crisis, we also had some setbacks. The surge of new infections in August meant several weeks of repositioning, as we responded to the spike in cases and increasing number of COVID-19 patients in our hospitals that threatened to overwhelm our health care system. We continued to learn and are committed to improving based on what we know.
Through it all, my leadership team and I have worked to better understand the problems we face and develop more effective responses.
Today, we are implementing an action plan with three main goals: Protect public health, revive the economy, and strengthen the community. In each category are important priorities that will help revitalize Hawaii.
For example, in the area of protecting public health, top priorities include increased testing and finalizing our vaccine strategy. To strengthen the community, we have launched rent and food assistance programs, job training, programs to support our businesses and more as we ensure that all federal CARES Act funds are used to help our residents. We are committed to achieving these goals and are making progress daily.
The leadership team of Dr. Libby Char, director of the Department of Health; Lt. Gov. Josh Green, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, incident commander; and Dr. Ginny Pressler, who has volunteered to chair the Laulima Alliance, is now in place to lead the work outlined in the action plan. These leaders have skills that make them especially effective in managing their part of the pandemic crisis. Now armed with a solid action plan and a stronger operational structure, we are turning to the next crucial component – developing stronger partnerships.
Effective communication and coordination are needed to encourage travel to the islands, host visitors at hotels, and enable them to engage in tourist activities. Other types of coordination are needed to keep our healthcare system at a high level of preparedness, enable students to return to the classroom, support businesses on safely reopening, get people back to work, provide timely and sufficient support to the unemployed, and minimize homelessness.
Last week, we held the first meeting of the Laulima Alliance, which brings together business, government, unions and commu- nity leaders so we can better coordinate our efforts. Mayor Kirk Caldwell also shared Honolulu County’s data-driven reopening plan, which provides greater transparency into Oahu’s approach. On the federal, state and county side, we’ve recommitted at all levels to work better together to improve the health and well-being of our community and economy. The people of Hawaii deserve our best effort and we simply cannot fail.
Hawaii will not return to “normal” as we knew it before the pandemic. My hope is that we will achieve a new normal that will leave us stronger and more resilient. We have challenges, but we also have great assets. Our people, the beauty of our islands, our location as a bridge to Asia, and our nurturing culture are strengths to draw on. Together we can win this fight against COVID-19 and ensure a strong recovery and a brighter future for us all.
David Ige is the governor of Hawaii.