As we approach two months of stay at home orders and the number of new cases is down to one or two per day, people are asking when will the re-opening of small business and easing of the lock down begin? At the same time, everyone wants to know we will be safe.
The first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in Hawaii was announced on March 6, 2020. As of the writing of this article, the number of confirmed cases has climbed to 609, and there have been 16 virus related deaths, 13 of whom were seniors with pre-existing conditions. Nearly 30,000 tests have been conducted, 505 people have recovered, 88 cases are active, and 69 patients have required hospitalization.
Mayor Caldwell’s Stay at Home Order began on March 23rd (Day 18 on the charts) and the Governor’s 14 Day Quarantine for all arriving passengers began on March 26th (Day 22). The purpose of these orders was to “flatten the curve” so that our health care system would not be overwhelmed by severe cases as had occurred in Italy and was happening in New York. As seen in the Daily Cases chart, the curve has indeed been flattened.
The Guidelines for Opening Up America Again offer a three phased approach to advise public health experts to help state and local governments when re-opening their economies. Essentially, the guidance calls for a downward trajectory for 14 days of influenza-like symptoms, COVID-like symptoms, and number of COVID cases, plus patient treatment without crisis management and robust testing for healthcare workers. If the current trend holds, we will have met the 14-day test by the time you read this article.
Two months ago, there was widespread fear that patients would die because of a shortage of ventilators, and we did not know how contagious or lethal the virus would prove to be. We still do not know how contagious asymptomatic people may be, but the virus is clearly more dangerous for older people and those with pre-existing conditions.
New York, the worst hit region in the country, had 12,000 ventilators on hand when their governor urgently called for another 30,000. As it turned out, they never faced a shortage of ventilators, but they did suffer through a severe shortage of hospital beds during the peak demand. Fortunately for Hawaii, our experience has been entirely different.
Today, we are in a much better place to understand and deal with the novel coronavirus. Its spread did not overwhelm our health care system, the curve was dramatically flattened, we adapted to social distancing and mask requirements, we now have the capacity to perform 3000 tests a day in-state, we have the lowest infection rate in the country, and serological testing for antibodies is becoming available. It is time to begin opening up the local economy.
The day after Mayor Caldwell extended his Stay at Home Order from April 30th to May 31st,
Like Like Drive Inn announced it could not survive any longer and would close its doors after 67 years of operation. Many businesses will not survive this extended shut down. Hawaii’s unemployment rate of 37% is by far the worst in the nation and hundreds of thousands of laid off workers have been painfully waiting for long delayed unemployment checks.
The Governor decided to allow flower shops to reopen in time for Mothers’ Day. The Mayor deemed it safe to walk in the park and he granted some small permissions, like using an automated car wash. I believe much more needs to be done, soon, to remove the restrictions that are no longer necessary and are crippling so many small businesses.
You cannot buy a bicycle from a bike shop, but you can buy one from a super store, and you can buy a surfing shirt at the same super store, but you cannot buy one at your local surf shop. There are countless inconsistencies and inequalities like these.
We have great hope for development of a new vaccine for this novel coronavirus, but time will tell if that hope is realized and if other therapies to help the sick recover can be found. With the continuation of social distancing, mask policies, and high awareness of this disease, we should be able to release local businesses now. When to allow tourists to return and how will the state function without tax revenues are more complicated questions.