HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A year after he issued his first COVID-related emergency proclamation, Gov. David Ige on Wednesday reflected on the lessons he’s learned and what’s still ahead.
In an interview with Hawaii News Now, Ige apologized for ongoing delays in issuing unemployment benefits during the pandemic but commended the state’s efforts in containing the spread of the virus.
On March 4, 2020, Ige declared his first emergency proclamation for the coronavirus pandemic.
“It definitely was a very stressful time,” said Ige. “There was still little known about what the medical impact of the virus itself might be.”
Two days later Ige was courtside at the Stan Sheriff Center, watching a sold-out match between UH and BYU. He was at the game just hours after breaking the news of Hawaii’s first coronavirus infection — a man who had traveled on a cruise.
“Once the virus was detected in the community it heightened the level of concern,” said Ige.
On March 25, Hawaii shut down and Ige said he knew the economic impact would be swift.
“We were focused on public health and the science of those public health leaders about what actions would be necessary to combat the spread of the virus. We also knew what a big economic impact it would be,” said Ige.
As of Wednesday, Hawaii has the lowest infection and death rates in the nation, but thousands desperately wait for unemployment benefits because of an antiquated computer system.
“Yes, I’m sorry that benefits have been delayed unreasonably long,” he said.
Early on, many business leaders worried the fallout from the pandemic could be worse than the virus itself.
“It is easy for people to criticize and comment about that. On the same token, I think we’ve all seen the videos of what happens when hospitals are overrun in a health care system in a community, seeing videos of patients lined up in the hallways of hospitals,” said Ige.
During the past year, the public was often confused by the emergency orders and conflicting messages between Hawaii’s top officials, especially as discussions continue over a possible vaccine pass and an end to the inter-island travel quarantine.
“Our rates are so low now that we should just dump the inter-island travel quarantine all together. It’s a total waste of time and money,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green on Tuesday.
“It’s easy for someone who lives on Oahu to talk about, it’s more than a hassle than it’s worth,” said Ige on Wednesday.
When HNN asked if it shows weakness in his administration when the two messages are very different, Ige responded: “I am very careful about announcing dates because I don’t believe it’s helpful to announce it prematurely. I think it just gets back to how both of us approach this topic.”
Aside from these learning curves, Ige said he is most proud of the state’s pre-travel testing program, which received national attention and respect.