Council: Big Island mayor’s lack of action over coronavirus putting lives at risk

Emotions run high at a Hawaii Island County Council meeting over COVID-19 concerns

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Members of the Hawaii County Council pleaded with Mayor Harry Kim on Friday to take immediate action to prevent the spread of coronavirus, saying it would be “irresponsible” of his administration to allow businesses and government offices to stay open.

The Big Island, which still has just one reported case of COVID-19, has been the least-impacted major population center across the state in the 15 days since Hawaii’s first case was reported.

But while the mayors of Maui, Kauai and Oahu have taken drastic action in recent days, Kim has been slow to respond, council members said.

“I’m very concerned about our island doing business as usual," Valerie Poindexter, the councilwoman from Hamakua, told Hawaii News Now.

"I’m feeling that the decisions made are not wise decisions, because we are playing Russian roulette with people’s lives.”

Late Friday afternoon, after the council meeting had concluded, the mayor’s office issued a statement saying beach parks across Hawaii Island would be closed beginning Saturday.

Camping and pavilion permits that had been issued at those places were also revoked, the county said.

But council members said Kim should be listening to the health experts who are calling for more aggressive actions.

“This is a pandemic. This is a health-related issue, and that’s not his skill set,” said Poindexter.

During the meeting, Kim said the county was going to continue to leave it up to private businesses to decide whether or not to close.

That’s even though the governor has called on bars and restaurants across the rest of the state to go to take-out and delivery only.

“We got permission from the attorney general, it is that flexible,” Kim said.

“I was not going to make it my decision. I was going to make it the decision of private business, telling them what they should do if they are going to keep it open.”

The mayor’s lack of action appears to also be riling county employees, according to council member Matt Kanealii-Fleinfelder, who said he had received at least 100 emails asking for help.

This story will be updated.

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