Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Wednesday, April 24, 2024 78° Today's Paper

Editorial: We’ve learned to ride the waves heading into 2022

We begin a new year having learned to bounce. Last year was one of extremes. Up-down, brightness-gloom, for better-for worse. We started 2021 with a new vaccine and COVID-19 case numbers dropping. Then came the delta variant and a summer surge. But that ended; it was a hopeful Halloween. Until: omicron. And here we are.

If there’s a new normal, it’s made of cycles. We ride them, we know that what goes up … That’s the lesson we take into 2022.

We’ve also learned much about ourselves as our adaptability has been tested. Repeatedly. Here are what the rhythm of “normal” looks like, for better or for worse:

The pandemic roller coaster

Our masks will stay close at hand as we try to enjoy what we can, when we can, where we can.

For so many months, we basically did what the government allowed us to do, until many mandates relaxed and we had more choices. Now, with COVID-19 cases soaring, some restrictions could be restored. The changing nature of the game means we constantly must assess our own levels of safety and comfort. Beyond the imperatives of getting vaccinated and masking up, we need to know when and how to get tested, plus how to move safely among others. We also must untangle ever-evolving sets of facts and advice.

This sense of fending for ourselves has grown sharper since hefty federal “plus-up” unemployment funds dried up. COVID self-responsibility is critical as we move into the phase of living with this virus. It will be with us for a lifetime.

Working, thriving at home

With the pandemic has come a growth in acceptance of working from home, at least in the white-collar world. Bosses who’d never considered managing a remote staff, employees who thought they needed an office environment to stay on track — both discovered productivity can improve when such annoyances as commuting are eliminated.

An October Gallup Poll showed that 45% of full-time employees are working at least partly from home. The effect on traffic is obvious, and for many the decrease in stress equally so. With many business giving up or minimizing office space, this seems to be an adaptation that will stick.

For our children, though, this tether to home has proved isolating; learning solely via computer screen, inadequate. As schools reopened last year, losses in learning became clear. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that virtual learning could present more risks to the mental and emotional health of children and their parents than in-person instruction, even in these dicey times.

The homeward shift also has contributed to bolting housing prices and a devastating loss of livelihood to downtown businesses, from lunch spots to office towers. Clearly, as a community we have yet to strike the right balance.

Tourism’s back, with baggage

The state’s chief economic engine went through the darkest of times, with the islands in the early pandemic months open only to tourists who could work a 10-day quarantine into their vacations. There’s since been an industry rebound. More than 6 million visitors came to Hawaii through November, double the 2020 numbers, their spending topping $11 billion.

Those eerie scenes of an empty Waikiki are no more. This comes with some regret, however, as we recall with nostalgia uncrowded beaches, an uncongested North Shore highway, news of ocean life rekindled at Hanauma Bay. The shutdown had a cleansing effect on over-taxed spaces — we’ve had to adapt to sharing once again.

Tourism numbers remain way down compared with the record-breaking 10 million-plus of 2019, but that could be a good thing. “Less is more” will be the mantra as we seek ways to control the effects of tourism even as we welcome back our visitors.

And then, the water …

The pandemic was the through-line of 2021, but in Hawaii another story emerged, one that united us in outrage: the contamination of drinking water tied to leaks in the Navy’s system of fuel tanks buried at Red Hill. This immense current and future danger galvanized nearly all — everyone from the governor down to the person-on-the-street.

Those World War II-era underground tanks? A state Department of Health hearings officer called them a “ticking time bomb,” perched above an aquifer that is the island’s most critical source of fresh water.

More than 3,200 military residents were forced to make a massive adaptation right at Christmas- time, abruptly relocated because they had no water to drink or even wash up in. Businesses in the area, already battered by the pandemic, were also caught up in the crisis.

The Navy continues to fight a state emergency order to defuel — a verb that’s gained traction. But those officials should be listening to Ernie Lau, the city Board of Water Supply manager who has been leery of those tanks for years: We’re not giving up this fight … “understand that you are going to need to deal with us whether you like it or not.”

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