Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Mayor to Close Hawai‘i County Beaches

March 20, 2020, 7:30 PM HST
* Updated March 22, 10:34 AM
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Mayor Harry Kim. PC: Team Ige

Mayor Harry Kim announced, Friday during an emergency Hawai‘i County council meeting, he would close beaches effective Saturday as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mayor has been under heavy scrutiny from the council and public for not shutting down the county or mandating social gathering establishments to shut their doors to in an effort to prevent further spread of the virus.

“I do not apologize for the decisions made,” Kim said Friday. “I’m proud of what we’re doing — I wish we could do more. I don’t have control over testing, airports or ships.”

Up to now, all beaches and parks have remained open, with Kim creating a task force, Bug Busters, to disinfect those public meeting places. Kim defended his decision to not immediately close beaches because he felt it would be taking something away — something that was important for the mental health of the community.

Kim has left the decision with business owners to stay open. While the state suggested a 15-day closure earlier this week in an effort to slow the virus, it was not a mandate.

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All council members were unified in their criticism against Kim’s evolving response to the outbreak, putting forth two resolutions — one that appeals the mayor and the other that appeals the governor — to enforce a lockdown on the Big Island.

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“All we can do ask you to consider the resolution,” said Council Chair Aaron Chung. “You’re either going to change your directives, follow what’s asked or stay the course. Our fallback is the governor does something as well. We’re trying to urge people on both fronts.”

Council members also inquired from Corporation Counsel if they had any authority over emergency declarations and proclamations. They do not.

Council members Rebecca Villegas, Maile David and Kared Eoff joined the meeting via video conference. Villegas held up a stack of papers indicating to Kim that it was testimony from people calling for his resignation.

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“They feel this is tragic reflection of weak leadership,” Villegas said. “I’m afraid the arrogance and incompetence will be unforgivable if we don’t learn. I’m sad for that and what this will do for our community.”

Chung agreed Kim’s response in the beginning of this crisis was faster than other counties, when he came before the council announcing an emergency declaration weeks ago.

“As quickly as this has been evolving, government’s response has been evolving as well,” Chung said. “You don’t know how much it hurts me that we’re not on the same page on this. You’ve heard from the County Council. We feel very strongly of a more unified lockdown.”

The mayor said there was no arrogance in his decisions or ignoring the position of the council.

“Decisions were based on how best to serve the county,” he said. “It’s not easy to just lock down an island from each other.”

Council members implored the mayor that residents of Hawai‘i County were looking for leadership.

Matthew Kaeali‘i-Kleinfelder said businesses aren’t closing because they’re complying with the suggested closures, they’re closing because they have to.

“Your business community is crying,” he said. “We’re all waiting for the guy above us to tell us what to do.”

Kaeali‘i-Kleinfelder said the mayor needed to start using stronger language in his declarations, using words like “will” and “shall.”

“No more briefings, just tell us what to do. Because all of us are just sitting here waiting,” he said.

Council members also expressed concern about visitors coming to hotspot areas, such as Milolii and Waipio Valley. The community, they explained, doesn’t know what to do or how to protect themselves.

“Mayor, listen, listen to your community,” Lee Loy said. “Put your community first — not the tourists, your people, our people, and together we can do this.”

Kim added that he’s been in discussion with Gov. David Ige, who’s asked all counties to provide input on a statewide lockdown and 14-day quarantine for incoming passengers. Counties must provide their comments to the governor by Sunday.

“I do understand the anger, I understand the fear,” Kim said. “I really felt the things we’re doing to clean and disinfect, we were ahead of the game.”

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