Malls and beaches empty, stores close and layoffs mount as stay-at-home order sets in

Published: Mar. 26, 2020 at 7:42 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A sweeping “stay-at-home” order is now in effect statewide ― and it shows.

Waikiki, the state’s no. 1 tourist destination, was all but deserted Wednesday. Malls looked like ghost towns with most of their retail shops closed. And popular beaches were empty.

In a news conference Wednesday, the governor said it appeared people were taking the state’s stay-at-home order seriously ― something he says is vital to prevent the further spread of coronavirus.

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“I’m fully aware of how this mandate is a challenge and burden for everyone across Hawaii,” Ige said. “I can not stress enough the importance of staying at home."

He added, "This is the only way we are going to slow the spread.”

Hawaii reported six new cases of coronavirus Wednesday, bringing the statewide total to 95.

State officials say that Hawaii still has not seen widespread community transmission of coronavirus. And they want it to stay that way — while recognizing cases will continue to rise.

“We continue to work aggressively on identifying cases,” said state Health Department Director Bruce Anderson. “We haven’t seen any evidence of widespread community transmission.”

Most of those who have tested positive are on Oahu, and the vast majority have a link to travel. At least six people have required hospitalization.

The governor’s stay-at-home order went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and continues through April 30. It’s meant to stop all but those activities deemed essential ― a broad term that includes everything from healthcare operations to grocery shopping and car repair to walks and surfing.

And, state officials say, it’s working.

Gov. Ige Press Conference

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The order has emptied tourism centers, closed businesses and public school campuses, and prompted tens of thousands of Hawaii residents to work from home.

It’s also brought tourism in the state to a near-standstill and triggered tens of thousands of layoffs.


In Waikiki on Wednesday, the streets were eerily quiet. Resident Regina Naylor called the entire scene “strange.” “It’s very quiet,” she said. “I haven’t seen it like this for decades.”

Resident J.R. Wierman agreed. He said the empty streets and sidewalks looked like something out of a disaster movie. “It is totally apocalyptic. It’s lacking energy," he said.

“Usually you come out here there’s aloha. There’s people everywhere. There’s activity,” he said.

"Now, people are consumed by fear and when you see them people are just coming across fear-driven, angry and upset and there is just no aloha whatsoever.”

Sophia Cardoza was one of few tourists in Waikiki on Wednesday.

The California resident said the streets seem lonely. “It is peaceful but it’s spring break and to see the beaches at spring break empty, it’s amazing," she said.

"I come here once a year and I’m used to seeing Hawaii and the beaches full of people and kids playing and we didn’t get that much of that this year. It’s just sad, it’s sad.”

Many worry what the empty hotels and closed up shops will mean in the long run. So far this month, more than 60,000 people have filed unemployment claims in Hawaii.

And that number is expected to continue to rise.

The stay-at-home mandate is in addition to the mandatory, 14-day quarantine for all incoming visitors and returning residents ― which is set to go into effect Thursday.

Together, the orders have essentially halted the state’s no. 1 economic driver ― tourism.

Also at the news conference, Ige said that Lt. Gov. Josh Green remains a part of the state’s coronavirus response as the state’s liaison with the health care community.

Civil Beat reported earlier this week that Green had been essentially fired from participating in response efforts. Green has pushed the governor to be more aggressive with his response to the pandemic.

This story will be updated.

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