Hawaii Wants to Lure Visitors---but Keep Out Covid-19

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Hawaii is riding out the covid. Nineteen storm but geographic isolation isn't the blessing it may seem by a. hundred algata when hawaii's corona virus infections were rising in late august. Honolulu mayor kirk caldwell visited doctors in the covid. Nineteen ward of the queen's medical center the state's largest hospital. I could see it in their faces and in their eyes caldwell says the concern and fear. They had that by the following week. If things didn't change they were not going to be able to care for people that they were going to have to put them intense outside. It was a crisis that leaders in the fiftieth state hoped they would never face between march and may when a stay at home order was in place. Hawaii was averaging only a couple of new cases every day but as some restrictions were lifted in june resulting in a patchwork of state and local rules. The numbers soon began inching up by late. July hawaii was metaphorically ablaze with the bulk of cases centered on oahu. Home to two thirds of the state's population. The island lost one hundred and nineteen. New cases underlie thirtieth by mid august. It was averaging over two hundred today four days after his hospital. Visit with more than three hundred and fifty people hospitalized for covid nineteen symptoms on his island issued a second lockdown order with the blessing of hawaii governor. David ige our hospital administrators had informed us. If we didn't do something that they would become overwhelmed says he gay three months later. It seems hawaii's response may have worked as a new deadly wave of coronavirus infections sweeps across the us. Hawaii is one of the only states in the country experiencing relative reprieve. It reported one hundred and thirteen new cases on november twenty third according to data from johns hopkins university slightly more than its weekly average of one hundred six daily new cases. Only vermont reported fewer cases that day hawaii the fortieth most populous state has a low case. Count even when adjusted for population as of november twenty third. It has a weekly average of seven cases per one hundred thousand residents the lowest in the country by comparison. The highest per capita figure is belong to north dakota at one sixty and wyoming at one fifty four infection levels in hawaii have stayed relatively steady since mid-september while nearly every other state has experienced an increase it remains to be seen whether a slight uptick in recent days could be the start of a new upward trend however how has a wii so far avoided another major covid nineteen surge. The clearest reason is apparent on any world map geography. It's so obvious yet. It plays such a big role says thomas lee. An assistant professor of epidemiology at the university of hawaii at manoa and co chair of the hawaii pandemic applied modeling workgroup. He also served as the lead outbreak. Modular and forecaster for the hawaii emergency management agency this spring for hawaii. The pacific ocean has helped serve as the world's biggest moat travelers arriving there by plane. Essentially the only means of reaching the state with cruise lines. Shuttered have since march required to self quarantine for two weeks though since mid-october visitors can avoid isolation if they test negative within seventy two hours of arrival while the rules may have kept visitors from seating new infection clusters. They have also devastated. Hawaii's tourism sector which accounts for nearly a quarter of its economic activity. Some hawaiian leaders. Still don't think they're doing enough to prevent infections part of a broader split among hawaiians over whether and how to welcome visitors back during a pandemic derek kawakami mayor of quite county says new infections on his islands are related to the reopening of travel from the continental us. He's proposed a requirement that travelers get tested a second time after arriving. This virus requires layer upon layer of intervention and mitigating measures. Kawakami says we have to be able to respond quickly and boldly because it can spread like wildfire kawais. Recent uptick is tiny in relative terms on november twentieth. It reported six cases. Its second highest one day count so far but kawakami has good reason to be worried koci home to around. Seventy two thousand people has just nine. Icu beds and fourteen ventilators. Isolated and with limited healthcare capacity and uncontrolled. Outbreak could quickly spell disaster. The holy grail is prevention. So that is what we put our blood sweat and tears into here on kobe. Kawakami says we're almost always on the red line. A similar imperative applies across the entire state of one point. Four million people with nowhere to turn of hawaii's healthcare system is overwhelmed leaders. There have little choice but to be proactive. In preventing covid nineteen outbreaks. We are geographically remote and so our healthcare system is really vulnerable says catherine purple an associate professor of health policy and management at the university of hawaii minoa there really is a strong motivating factor to try to keep those numbers under control. Hawaii's isolation then is a double edged sword. Thousands of miles of ocean are a good tool to stop travelers from seating new corona virus clusters but if infection spin out of control anyway. Assistance could be a long time coming. We have been from the very beginning focused on the science and public health recommendations because we are twenty five hundred miles away from any help. Says the governor. We learned a long time ago. That we have to be self reliant and that we have to act as a community epidemiologists say it's difficult to attribute hawaii's relative covid nineteen success to any one factor isolation included for one thing cold weather which is forcing many americans indoors where the virus can spread. More easily is unheard of in most of hawaii. Honolulu's thanksgiving day forecast is eighty two and sunny. Other government measures may also have played a part unused hotel rooms and a wa who have been repurpose to isolate nineteen patients and restrictions on inter island. Travel have prevented. Local spread mask wearing has helped as well on kauai and a who mask. Mandates were instituted in april while an august survey found that ninety. Six percent of hawaiians are masking up. Unlike for many americans. Wearing masks to prevent illness isn't an entirely foreign concept for hawaiians public health experts. Say that's likely due to the states relative proximity to asia where facial coverings tend to be more prevalent. Many hawaii residents. Who commented for this article also cited the state's heritage and cultural values as a reason for high adherence to public health mandates. We have a culture here that comes from the first people's the native hawaiians called ball says the term juliana means responsibility and it does the people here in hawaii still leaders in hawaii have come under pressure over cove nineteen restrictions caldwell says people sometimes drive down his street to yell outside his house either at him or his wife and daughter. Some people certainly have reason to be upset. Travel restrictions have ravaged the state's tourism dependent economy hawaii's overall unemployment rate was more than fourteen percent in october according to the us department of labor the worst in the country for the second month in a row called bo says he understands people's frustrations but needs to prioritize. Public health. people are impacted. Their businesses are impacted. their life dreams are impacted. He says. I get why they're upset. But i also believe that in order to protect health and safety which is always the most important thing that comes first. And i think it's tied directly to the economy to after months of travel restrictions. Guy says the state's pretrial testing program finally bringing in visitors and helping hawaiians get back to work while keeping cova level stable still. Despite hawaii's current low case counts it remains to be seen if the state's leaders can revive tourism based economy while at the same time staving off a devastating rise in cases which would likely put the tourism business back on ice anyway depend on travel. Uk says but everyday day. I get comments from members in our community that continuing to bring visitors into hawaii during this time is really putting our community at risk. It's something that weighs very heavily on myself. And the mayor's every day as we see the virus counts increasing on the mainland.

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