HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Amid growing fears that the coronavirus is spreading in the community, the governor issued a host of new orders and guidelines Tuesday, directing all non-essential state workers to stay home, asking visitors to stay away, and directing bars to close.
The actions when fully put in place will all but bring Hawaii’s no. 1 economic driver ― tourism ― to a halt, dramatically change the pace of daily life in the islands, and trigger widespread economic pain.
But at a news conference Tuesday, Gov. David Ige said the short-term consequences are better than the alternative, and will allow Hawaii to more quickly return to normal once the risk subsides.
“Our state will be implementing additional measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
“These actions may seem extreme to some of you. But taking aggressive actions now will allow us to have quicker recovery once the crisis is over.”
Despite the direction for non-essential state workers to stay home, the governor said public schools would remain open ― with students returning after an extended spring break.
He said schools would instead practice “social distancing” in classrooms, but the details of what that would look like ― especially at large middle and high schools ― were still being worked out.
At the news conference, Ige said he was:
- Directing all bars and clubs to close. Restaurants should go to take-out only, Ige said, and tour companies should limit or shut down operations immediately.
- Asking tourists to stay away for at least 30 days.
- Bolstering screening of cruise ship passengers, with temperature checks and questions about symptoms and recent travel. Airports would also be bolstering their procedures.
- Stopping all non-essential state travel, including inter-island travel. Those who do have to travel will have to go into self-isolation for 14 days.
- Directing all movie theaters, visitor attractions and places of worship to close.
- Closing all state libraries, parks, events at the State Capitol building, Aloha Stadium and Hawaii Convention Center.
Also Tuesday, the governor said that there are discussions underway to handle the long-term economic fallout of the pandemic, specifically on the tourism industry.
Ige said he wants to halt foreclosures, evictions for non-payment of rent, and disconnections of necessary utilities, such as water and electricity.
The state Department of Public Safety has already announced it was putting evictions on hold, while Hawaiian Electric said Tuesday that it was suspending all disconnections for at least 30 days.
“With everything that’s going on, and with the impacts to the Hawaii economy just starting to be known, we don’t want people who are struggling financially to worry about having this essential service interrupted,” said Shelee Kimura, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president of customer service.
“We’re providing this special assistance by setting up payment plans and making other arrangements for customers who let us know about their situation.”
One of those cases has been the result of community spread: An employee at Kualoa Ranch with no history of travel fell sick last week and underwent testing over the weekend.
At least two dozen people she had close contact with have since been tested.
Meanwhile, the death toll in the U.S. from the coronavirus passed the 100 mark on Tuesday after Washington state reported six new fatalities, bringing the country’s total to 103.
In an interview Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Josh Green urged residents to prepare for new cases ― and restrictions. “We now have community spread. We’re going to see a lot more of that as we get reports from our private labs. So this is the next phase of COVID-19 for Hawaii,” Green said.
“You’ll now start hearing stories each and every hour about someone who may have been exposed to a case. This is now the new normal. There will be some community spread to deal with.”
State Health Department Director Bruce Anderson echoed those statements later in the day, saying it’s just a matter of time before Hawaii sees more cases of community transmission.
“We’re going to see a lot more testing now and we’re going to be seeing an increasing in the positive tests,” he said. “We’re starting to see these more often occur through travelers and others who may have come into contact with cases.”
On Monday, Ige issued a supplemental emergency proclamation aimed at speeding up the state’s response to the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, and better coordinating it.
The proclamation addresses everything from the activation of some National Guard members to the hoarding of necessities, and waives the one-week wait time for unemployment claims.
This story will be updated.