Lessons Learned

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Photo: Brendon Kalei'aina Lee

Much has been said over the last two months about what we should do, or what we should have done, in response to the coronavirus outbreak we are now facing. Many have suggested that we should have just shut down the airports and not allowed any non-residents into Hawai‘i. Knowing the state government does not have the authority to make such a mandate, the Governor did what he called a “bold move” by requiring a 14-day mandatory quarantine with no real plan for enforcement.

Hawai‘i has seen this before: the cholera epidemic of 1804, influenza in the 1820s, mumps in 1839, measles and whooping cough in 1848-49 and smallpox in 1853. Because of these epidemics, the population of Hawai‘i went from modern estimates of between 750,000-1,000,000 native Hawaiians in 1778 to a total population of 53,000 in 1876. Keeping in mind that by this time the population is not just Hawaiian, this is a decimation of over 80% of the native population. This led King Kamehameha V to create a quarantine zone in 1869 on a small island off the coast of Honolulu.

A small quarantine zone? What a concept. If our state government cannot stop travelers from entering our state, then why are they not quarantining them, not self-quarantine, but holding them in place until either their return flight, or the 14-days, are up? By the time the quarantine order went into place, many hotels had already closed their doors. There is also a military base attached to the airport where a tent city could have easily been erected and monitored by the National Guard. Arriving visitors would have two choices: enter the quarantine site or get back on a plane and return to their airport of origin.

The state has said over and over that they make random calls to ensure visitors are in their rooms abiding by the quarantine. If visitors are not allowed to leave their rooms except for medical attention, why are they being issued keys to their rooms? They should be escorted to their room by security, let in and that’s it. If they show up to the front desk to be let back into the room, they have violated the quarantine.

This may seem harsh, or unfair, but let us all remember the numbers I mentioned. Now, as then, all it takes is one infected person and we are right back where we started until a vaccine is developed, if one ever is.

This is not to say that your Office of Hawaiian Affairs has not been doing anything but criticizing an administration that seems to be either slow, or unable, to make hard decisions. Through our Ka Pouhana we have been diligently reprioritizing grant funding that will not be deployed because of cancelled events and adjusting the last quarter of the fiscal budget to redeploy funds to programs that will help our community now. Some have asked why the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has not deployed funds sooner, and to those I say let us not forget the lessons we learned from the state audit of 2018. There is a process for adjusting the budget and reallocating funds, and our team has worked as quickly as possible without cutting corners to get that work accomplished. I want to mahalo our CEO, Dr. Sylvia Hussey, and her team for all they have done to get these funds where they are needed.

I wish you all good health. Stay safe, stay inside and stay healthy. If we all do our part, we can, and will, fare better than our ancestors did two centuries ago.