Hawaii Should Strive to Remain “The Safest Place in the World”

Hawaii should strive to remain “the safest place in the world”

As we finish our 2020 Memorial Day weekend in Hawaii, we have many things to celebrate. The graduates of 2020 and families are finding creative and safe ways to celebrate their achievements. Stores and malls are beginning to unlock the doors and welcome customers again. Many are looking into the mirror and finally counting the days until they can visit their favorite barber, hair stylist or manicurist.

But we have much more to be thankful for as we approach the end of May in a year that has changed the planet as we know it. Hawaii, we are the safest place in the United States and nearly the top in the world.

How did we get here? It was a mere 3 months ago that the US woke to the reality that this mysterious disease originating in Wuhan China was confirmed to be spreading in our country. In the past 10 weeks nearly 100,000 Americans have died from this devastating respiratory virus. Now think about Hawaii, we have lost 17 individuals total. Everyone is tragic but adding a “0” or even two “00” could have easily happened. We have done this as one state and one people sharing our common love for our families and neighbors. We have done this with great sacrifice including an unfathomable 1 out of 4 people being out of work. We have done this by following the three most effective guidelines of social distancing, wearing masks in public and following the stay at home orders.

As we begin to see some light and a glimmer of life as we know it in Hawaii, where do we go from here? One place we all should agree on is not back to where we started! It concerns me when I hear public officials talk about the “second wave” and preparing for the near certain eventuality that COVID will once again be causing us to fear for the lives of our kupuna and those with chronic illness or weakened immune systems.

As a physician leading a selfless dedicated team putting their lives on the line daily along with all the incredible health professionals on every island, we all know it is preventable and can be stopped. It starts with testing all visitors prior to arriving on our shores. It must be performed within three days of arrival and be a valid test. It should be repeated once in seven days after the initial test while in Hawaii. No valid rapid test is available in the US and let’s get real. How could we test 1000 people safely lined up in our airports, let alone 10,20, or 30 thousand in a single day!

Think about testing prior to arrival could mean for us as a state. First, it protects all of us, our loved ones and neighbors. It is doing everything we can do to not accept living with masks every day is the new normal. Imagine being able to share a traditional hug with friends or new acquaintances in the true Hawaiian style again. Second, consider getting our economy back on its feet and everyone back to some type of work. This is where the magic occurs that we need to really share with our leadership and the world.

We can have the best of all worlds in the era of COVID as everyone searches for their first post-quarantine trip. We will be able to shout to the world we are “the safest place on earth”. This should be our new brand and become synonymous with “Aloha Spirit” and beauty that already is known throughout the world.

The rest of the world is already discussing “travel bubbles” and “immunity passport”. It is not surprising that no one is including the United States due to the failures to control the spread of COVID. Hawaii is currently gaining a reputation as the state that aggressively prosecutes quarantine violators and I certainly support these efforts. But it is time we recreate our image.

So Hawaii, lets come together to recreate our future as one safe from infection, but slowly open to the world. It starts with some practice and allowing inter island travel. Everyone should plan their “summer vacation” to the neighbor islands to expand the Kama’aina economy. The resorts, hotels and smaller can safely practice and plan for larger numbers of guests and hopeful make it “soft” on everyone’s wallet and inviting on our residents.

Then hopefully we will have the testing requirements established by true medical professionals and in place so that Hawaii sees no “Second Wave” and the lives of those at risk are safe. Will an occasional person be missed, and a few positives occur and even a small cluster occur? Yes, but we can be prepared to aggressive, test, track, quarantine and stop the spread. But life may begin to return to the place we love while keeping Hawaii the “Safest Place in the World”.