WATCH: ‘Coronavirus Pandemic: Hawaii’s Response,’ our town hall on COVID-19

A discussion with leaders from the political, economic and health sectors about how the state is responding to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Updated: Mar. 28, 2020 at 9:41 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The US now leads the world in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 82,000 people infected.

Of those, Hawaii has 106 cases, including several cases that are not linked to any recent travel.

The pandemic has changed daily life in the islands, brought tourism to a standstill, and underscored the need for accurate information on what Hawaii is doing to stop the spread and prepare for more cases.

On Thursday night, HNN hosted a town hall-style discussion with leaders tackling the state’s coronavirus response to answer your questions about what’s being done to keep people safe.

Here’s a look at some of the topics that experts tackled:

Why did the state wait so long to institute a stay-at-home order?

Gov. David Ige said significant planning was required to institute a stay-at-home order.

And now that the order is in place, he said, residents are heeding the warnings to stop the spread of the virus.

“We have an opportunity for the next two weeks to really separate so that we don’t exchange the virus,” Ige said. “It’s very clear that the majority out in the community are taking the orders seriously.”

Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the mandates issued have been unprecedented.

“The good news now is that we’re all taking action, extraordinary action,” he said. “It is working.”

Is the virus widespread in the community?

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said the simple answer is no. Or rather, not yet.

Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist, said concern about community spread is highest on Oahu.

“From the very beginning, I was worried about Honolulu the most,” she said, adding that there are also some worrying signs on some of the Neighbor Islands.

Will public school students have to repeat a grade because of the number of days missed?

Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said the system is “in alignment” on the stay-at-home order through April 30, and is still developing plans to determine what’s next for students.

She added that more information will come out soon to help students and families make next steps.

Are the governor and lieutenant governor working together to solve this crisis?

A rift between Gov. David Ige and Lt. Gov. Josh Green made headlines in Hawaii, but the two appear to have made amends. “We’re working together,” Ige said.

Green added that he has the governor's "back."

"This is a guy who is fighting to keep us alive," Green said.

What has Hawaii ordered from the national stockpile?

Hawaii is getting personal protective equipment for health care workers from the national stockpile.

The state is also getting equipment “as they’ve been able to provide it,” the governor said.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, state adjutant general, said the state is also purchasing equipment. He said he recently authorized a $13 million purchase for equipment.

Will the state be freezing rents for businesses and residents?

The governor noted that the first emergency proclamation that he issued suspends the landlord-tenant code and puts a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.

He said the state is also eying other options to help businesses and residents.

Why can’t the state be more specific about where the cases are located?

Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist, said privacy laws mean that the state can't say specifically where the cases are.

But she said that the Health Department is working to map out cases and release the results to the public.

She added, "Just because you live in one place ... it doesn't mean that's where you were infected."

And she said that putting a dot on a map doesn’t necessarily say a particular area is a hotspot.

Can people run, surf or go to the beach?

A little exercise is fine, but gathering in a group is a no-no.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said social distancing applies to recreation. “A long walk is fine,” he said.

And the governor previously said surfing is OK, too.

Are people taking the stay-at-home and social distancing mandates seriously?

The government leaders said they believed that people are abiding by the stay-at-home order, by and large.

But there are people who are flouting the order, too, they said.

“Unless everyone takes this seriously and does their part, we’re not going to stop this,” said Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, state adjutant general.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell said people are “worried and scared.”

He said if people don’t follow the warnings, the city or state might have to look at stricter restrictions, including curfews or inter-island travel quarantines.

But, he said, “we’re not there yet. The majority of people are heeding the warnings.”

Is the state processing unemployment claims in a timely way?

Before the pandemic, the state was able to process unemployment claims in 21 days about 87% of the time.

But tens of thousands of people have filed claims so far this month. So officials are warning people it could take as long as a month for people to start getting benefits.

What resources are available to workers and families?

The Hawaii Community Foundation has launched a special fund aimed at helping those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Micah Kane, of the foundation, said businesses are also pitching in with donations to key nonprofits.

To get help, you’re encouraged to call 211. To donate to the foundation’s Hawaii Resilience Fund, click here.

How long will it take tourism to rebound?

Eric Gill, treasurer of Unite HERE Local 5, said even when the threat of the virus has passed it’s unlikely tourism will rebound immediately.

That means that those laid off could be without work for quite some time.

Micah Kane, of the Hawaii Community Foundation, added that social distancing and stopping the spread of the virus is vital to ensuring that the state’s economy will recover.

“The faster we can do that, the less impact it’s going to have on our economy,” he said.

How are nonprofits tackling this crisis?

Micah Kane, of the Hawaii Community Foundation, said nonprofits are struggling amid the pandemic.

He noted that YMCA, for example, was forced to lay off 1,400 of its 1,470 employees after closing its doors.

He added that the foundation is working to push money to nonprofits so they can help the community.

Are hospitals prepared for a surge in cases?

Lt. Gov. Josh Green says Hawaii is preparing for an increase in coronavirus cases, but no state is prepared for a significant surge in sick patients.

Dr. Julius Pham, of Queen’s Health Systems, added that if a surge comes hospitals would easily be overwhelmed.

Officials said it’s vital that people follow stay-at-home orders in order to “flatten the curve.”

Can you catch coronavirus from a neighbor who’s coughing in their home?

The short answer: Probably not.

Health care experts say you have to be about 6 feet from someone who has coronavirus to be at risk of catching it. That means a neighbor coughing next door probably doesn’t pose much of a risk.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green put it this way: “You go to the beach and you make out with someone who’s got COVID and you don’t know, that’s how you’re going to get it.”

How many cases do you think Hawaii could get?

That, health care experts say, is the million dollar question.

But they agree that the stay-at-home order and other measures will help to limit the number of cases.

“The slope of the curve is what will tell us where we’re headed,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green.

Daniel Ross, of the Hawaii Nurses Association, noted that measures to protect kupuna at nursing homes are very important. But he noted that keeping a distance from others is difficult for families.

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