HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - It’s easy to forget just how much has changed since March 25, when the governor instituted a sweeping stay-at-home order that effectively shut down the state.
The emergency rule, coupled with a mandatory quarantine for visitors, are credited with significantly decreasing the number of COVID-19 infections in Hawaii. Today, the state has one of the nation’s lowest COVID-19 fatality rates.
But as Hawaii prepares to reopen its tourism industry in August, there are growing concerns that Hawaii could see an increase in cases. There are also growing fears about the future of the state’s economy.
So to better understand where Hawaii is headed, HNN asked people around the state to talk about their “new normal.”
Watch our interviews here:
As the coronavirus pandemic gripped most of the U.S., Gov. David Ige first issued the stay-at-home order March 25, in a move that brought tourism to a standstill, triggered non-essential businesses to close, and led to unprecedented layoffs.
“These actions are extreme but necessary for us to flatten the curve and lay the groundwork for our recovery,” Ige said. “The threat of COVID-19 is unprecedented.”
A month later, Ige extended the order through May 31, citing fears of a second wave of the illness.
“We are not out of the woods yet,” Gov. Ige said. “We still need to remain vigilant.”
Infection rates remained relatively low in Hawaii with the largest number of cases in a day ― 34 ― reported in early April. And as Hawaii began to “flatten the curve,” mayors and the governor lifted restrictions and announced the economy would slowly reopen in phases.
As part of the stay-at-home order, all non-essential businesses were forced to shut down, leading to mass layoffs. Hundreds of thousands of residents filed for unemployment.
In May, Hawaii had the nation’s second-highest unemployment rate, at 22.6%, behind only Nevada.
The overwhelming number of people filing for jobless claims severely impacted the state unemployment office, who dealt with a major backlog of claims that triggered frustration and anger among residents.
Weekly food distribution events became a common sight as thousands of vehicles lined up for free food.
Despite the economy reopening and people getting back to work, unemployment remains at unprecedented levels.
On March 26, the state imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all incoming travelers to the state. That order, in addition to the stay-at-home order, halted tourism, Hawaii’s no. 1 industry.
Last year, Hawaii had a record 10 million visitors to the state. This year, the state Department of Businesses and Economic Development is projecting that visitor arrivals for 2020 will top out at 3.4 million.
The streets of Waikiki, normally bustling with visitors, were largely empty – a clear sign of the state of Hawaii’s tourism.
As the economy began reopening, state leaders also began discussing how to safely reopen Hawaii for tourism.
But just Wednesday, Ige announced a step toward reopening tourism: Starting Aug. 1, travelers who test negative for coronavirus no more than 72 hours before arriving in Hawaii will be able to avoid the state’s mandatory quarantine.