HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - March was the month everything changed. When the dominoes fell quickly, one after another after another.
First public health officials announced the mysterious illness that had triggered lockdowns in China had made its way around the world, including Hawaii. The state reported its first COVID-19 case March 6.
Then the infections began to rise. And before month’s end, the governor had imposed a statewide stay-at-home order, banning non-essential activities, and a mandatory quarantine for all travelers.
Seemingly overnight, the highways emptied of commuters. Waikiki, the state’s no. 1 tourism destination, was deserted. Schools were closed. Countless businesses shut down.
Today, more than eight months later, the impacts of the pandemic have been felt in every corner of the state. Some 16,000 residents have tested positive for the virus. More than 220 people have died.
And with a vaccine still in development, this public health crisis is far from over.
The economy, meanwhile, is making a teetering comeback, fueled first by a gradual (and stop-and-start) reopening and then by the state’s pre-travel testing program for trans-Pacific visitors. These baby steps, though, are far from undoing the unprecedented economic pain that 2020 has wrought.
Hundreds of Hawaii businesses have closed for good. Tens of thousands remain without work, their unemployment benefits running out and their bills piling up. Weekly food distributions are still packed events statewide, with lines of cars stretching for miles.
It’s been a year of upheaval, of anxiety, of sadness, of fear.
But it’s been a year of heroes, too. Of acts of kindness. Of thanksgiving and adaptation.
To help tell the story of the pandemic in the islands, Hawaii News Now is debuting a new digital series, “How We Live," that explores the ways in which COVID-19 has upended our “normal” and brought about change.
These stories resonate because they show us what we’ve lost and what we’ve gained, how we’ve survived and sometimes, even thrived, in the face of incredible odds. This is How We Live:
Sonya Austin, an Emergency Medical Services paramedic, says her worst fear isn’t interacting with coronavirus-infected patients. It’s the possibility that a mistake could expose her family members.
“Here in Hawaii we kiss and hug everyone. I can’t wait until we can do that again."
After a long career, former banker John Roxburgh was looking forward to retirement.
But the coronavirus pandemic swiftly transformed this lifelong traveler’s retirement dream into a symbol of lost opportunity.
“We’re gonna have to accept change,” he said. “It’s gonna be difficult.”
Oahu native Naea Ching considered himself lucky. His job gave him the status of “essential worker.” It was steady and stable.
But at the height of the pandemic, he gave it up to relocate to the mainland with his boyfriend, searching for new opportunities ― and a new place to call home.
“I’m adjusting better than I thought I would," he said.
A professional fitness trainer, 46-year-old George Ma rarely ever got sick.
That is, until this summer, when he contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalized for 12 days.
Months later, he is still grappling with lingering effects of the virus ― from neurological impacts to chronic fatigue ― and hopes his story will remind others to take the virus seriously.
“We just have to learn to live with this new reality, accept it, that’s the main thing,” he said.
Sarah Click lives for teaching. The only thing more important in her life is being a mom and a wife.
So earlier this year, when she was forced to choose between the job she loves and her kids, she felt the system had betrayed her.
“It really did not feel fair," she said. “I felt burned.”
Click didn’t let herself get lost in those feelings, though. She realized she would need to move on, make the best of things for her family ― and herself ― and figure out how to make things work.
2020 offered so much promise for Meleina Hancock.
She was nurturing a fledgling fashion line, teaching the art classes that she loved and looking ahead to new projects and opportunities.
But then the pandemic hit and her financial situation went from “making ends meet” to “going under.”
Things seem hopeless, but Hancock won’t let her head go there. “I just have to get creative,” she said.
Are you interested in sharing your story for this series? Send us email by clicking here.