Relief, excitement, trepidation, fear, sadness: All these emotions come into play as Hawaii prepares to lift its 14-day coronavirus quarantine for tourists. The state continues to fine-tune its pre-arrivals testing program, set to launch Oct. 15.
Visitors to Hawaii will be required to take a coronavirus test no earlier than 72 hours before the last leg of their flight, and to show a negative result before being turned loose in the islands without quarantining. There’s also the additional (online) paperwork with the state’s Safe Travels program, in “5 easy steps,” according to the state’s travel.hawaii.gov website.
Critics have complained that the testing program won’t cover all the possible gaps through which the virus can sneak in. That’s true. No program can. It’s also true that the lovely hiatus our natural environment has enjoyed — cleaner and more vibrant waters, like in Hanauma Bay, and less wear and tear on hiking trails — will be coming to an end. And locals who have grown accustomed to having paradise to themselves will need to learn to share again.
Tourism is our big economic engine, and we need to keep it purring. But we can fine-tune it before we restart it.
The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) and the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) recently announced some encouraging steps in that direction. Mainly it involves messaging: informing tourists about the state’s requirements for masks, physical distancing and hygiene, like washing hands frequently.
Also, the Malama Hawaii program will offer tourists a free night’s stay if they volunteer for projects that enhance the state’s natural beauty and culture.
These are good first steps. But it will take more than a few well-placed PSAs to achieve the real goal: to change expectations about what Hawaii can offer. It’s not just a tropical playground; it’s also a collection of fragile ecosystems, some just beginning to recover, that need protection. It’s not a place to escape the coronavirus; those of us who live here remain exposed to the danger. Visitors need to respect that.
COVID-19 has imposed a heavy burden on Hawaii. When visitors once again start to arrive in larger numbers, their vacation experience won’t — and can’t — be what it once was. It must be more mindful, more appreciative, more thoughtful. In other words, better.
SUPPORT THE ARTS
Even in good times, the creative arts count on talented members and rely on robust community support to thrive. But now, the coronavirus pandemic is testing the limits of creativity just to survive.
From theatrical productions to concerts to exhibits, Hawaii’s cultural arts are struggling to stay afloat. All live performances have been forced to go virtual since March, when Hawaii’s first lockdown shut most businesses and stopped performance seasons.
As reported Monday by the Star-Advertiser’s John Berger, “butts in seats” theater performances have been nonexistent for more than half a year now, with no change in sight. That has forced arts and culture groups to adapt, even if it means far less than 50% of normal audiences. The show must go on, after all.
Just a few examples of the necessary changes that have occurred:
>> Kumu Kahua Theatre marked its 50th season last week with the world premiere of the locally written drama, “Lovey Lee,” a virtual offering that underscored the new reality of livestreaming to households at lower ticket prices.
>> The Hawaii Symphony Orchestra (HSO), which tonight continues its new digitally accessible season, is streaming performances live from the historic Hawaii Theatre.
>> The Honolulu Museum of Arts reopened Thursday, a gem of artworks and urban-oasis calm; its Pau Hana Fridays, free to Hawaii residents, continue every Friday from 4 to 9 p.m. through year’s end — with masks, physical distancing and capacity limits, of course.
>> Diamond Head Theatre (DHT) introduced a wholly creative ways of bringing theater to patrons, via its Sunset Serenade Fall Drive-In Concert Series that began in August. Performed on the elevated balcony at the back of the theater, audience members watch and listen in the comfort of their cars in the parking lot. It’s been sold out, which speaks to the hunger for culture, more than ever amid a global pandemic.
Of course, all this innovation is nowhere enough to meet the box-office take that normal shows bring. HSO and DHT, for instance, each report about a $1 million hit due to the pandemic — so all are relying on grants, avid patrons and other community donations to keep going.
Whenever possible, take the time to enjoy some form of the arts — and if possible, support the efforts of the troupes and talents that keep us inspired.
“No city can be great without culture and the arts,” the late Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi once said, and he is absolutely right. Culture and the arts feed the soul, fuel our imaginations and give us respite from harsh realities. Now, more than ever, respite is precious.