Mayors: Decision to delay reopening ‘heartbreaking’ but necessary

Mayor Derek Kawakami is reiterating that he knows how close to closing some Kauai storefronts are.
Updated: Jul. 14, 2020 at 5:30 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - As tourism-dependent businesses across Hawaii wonder if they can survive another two months without visitors, the mayors on Kauai and Oahu are reiterating that they know how close to closing some local storefronts are.

“We understand how thin that profit margin is, and the ability to stay open highly relies on visitors,” Kauai mayor Derek Kawakami told Hawaii News Now on Tuesday. “We’re doing everything we can to provide relief.”

Gov. David Ige’s announcement on Monday that the state was pushing back the implementation of a plan that would allow trans-Pacific travelers to skip quarantine in Hawaii if they test negative for COVID-19 was undoubtedly a blow for businesses on many islands.

But as cases continue to surge on the U.S. mainland, some ― including Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell ― say the balance between giving a lifeline to the economy and keeping Hawaii residents safe remains difficult to find.

“How do you open up to visitors and get everyone back to work but protect our residents?” said Caldwell. “How do you do that safely when you see surging cases in major tourism markets that come to Hawaii? With those challenges, I think giving it more time to protect Hawaii was the right decision by the governor.”

Both Caldwell and Kawakami say there are concerns that the state’s new reopening target date of Sep. 1 won’t be enough of a delay to ensure the safety of Hawaii residents.

“I would say it is difficult to say what September is going to look like,” Kawakami said. “I do realize that the private sector needs a date in order to plan (for reopening).”

“We feel the pressure to open up, but to rip off the band-aid and let’s just open up and chance ‘em ... we’re not gonna chance ‘em,” said Caldwell.

In order for the new date to be viable, the mayors said in separate interviews, the most important thing that has to happen between now and Sept. 1 is the implementation of an infrastructure that can track Hawaii’s arriving passengers and allow law enforcement officials to cross-check the arrivals with real-time testing information.

“When we open up to outside visitors who can’t get a test, we need to find quarantine breakers immediately,” Caldwell said. “And the only way to do that is to provide up to date information to the Honolulu Police Department.”

And in Hawaii, as is the case in most other places, our own actions will help keep everyone safe, Kawakami says.

“The key piece of the puzzle to unlock this riddle is our own personal behavior,” Kawakami said. “Putting the health of others above ourselves, that requires physical distancing, good hygiene, everybody to wear masks.”

This story will be updated.

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