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EditorialIsland Voices

Column: COVID caps tough times, but civic spirit intact

CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Kirk Caldwell is the mayor of the City and County of Honolulu.
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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

Kirk Caldwell is the mayor of the City and County of Honolulu.

Looking back over the last eight years, and particularly the last year, what an incredible time it has been — from coming out of Furlough Fridays as I entered office, to a once-in-a-century event in the past year. Out of the trauma and tragedy, hope for a more resilient future will grow in the coming year.

We (the world, our country, our state and our island) have responded in different ways to the COVID pandemic. Unlike the rest of the world, the people of Oahu stood strong and together while other communities and governments fell apart. We were by no means perfect, and the communication between the state and the city could have been better in the early days. But there was no guidebook or rulebook to fall back upon on how to navigate this health and resulting economic crisis.

The pandemic highlighted injustices and inequities, such as how we have failed to integrate the Pacific Islander community into our island ohana and how we must build bridges into this community; the impacts on those at the lower economic spectrum (the under-employed and the unemployed) and how we must fight for a living wage; the plight of our children and young adults who have fallen behind in their schoolwork and the need to develop more WiFi connectivity; and many of our families who too often go hungry and the importance of developing more sustainable agriculture on Oahu. The virus tightened its grip on all of us. No one escaped its impact.

But the challenges brought on by the pandemic have shown us as a people willing to embrace change, while making incredible sacrifices and demonstrating remarkable courage. I think of our health care professionals and city first responders who went to work while many of us stayed home, risking their health. And when they came home, slept in their garages because they did not want to risk infecting their families.

We went through two lockdowns, Black Lives Matter protests, one of the most contentious elections in our nation’s history, and local protests because of our conservative reopening tier system, while respecting the rule of law, free speech and individual rights. It is a remarkable demonstration of who we are as a people. We are Oahu Strong.

For me, this pandemic has helped me to focus on what matters most in life: family, our social fabric that defines us as a community and individual dignity.

Which leads me to civic pride. Through our united efforts we lead the nation and every large city in having the lowest number of COVID cases per capita and the lowest positivity rate. This happened because all of us came together and worked really, really hard and sacrificed for the greater good. We persevered.

We still have difficult times ahead as we push to get approximately 70-80% of Oahu’s population vaccinated so that we develop herd immunity. This will take some time. We must not get discouraged or let our guard down on mask wearing, physical distancing, hand washing, avoiding large groups, and gathering only with those we live with.

As we say goodbye to 2020, a most difficult year, and welcome in a much brighter 2021, we will have a new mayor in Rick Blangiardi, leading our incredible island and its people. We all wish him well. His success is all of our success. I, for one, will be rooting hard for him.

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