Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Economic Reopening Will Come in Phases, Officials Say

April 30, 2020, 5:00 PM HST
* Updated April 30, 4:41 PM
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For more than a month, Hawai‘i’s economy has been shut down in an effort stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the past 11 days, the most new coronavirus cases reported in one day was six. As a result, Gov. David Ige announced Wednesday the first phase of a plan to reopen Hawaii’s economy. After discussions with county mayors, the decision to allow real estate companies, car and truck dealerships, automated service providers, mobile service providers, one-on-one service providers, and all public and private golf courses will soon be able to begin regular operations.

On a Facebook Live Thursday, Gov. David Ige and Alan Oshima, Hawai‘i’s Economic and Community Recovery and Resiliency Navigator, discussed plans to keep the community safe while beginning to reopen designated sectors.

During the video, Oshima said it’s important to move slowly with deliberate speed, keeping health paramount, adding his group is connecting with business and community representatives to gather input, share ideas and provide ways to create Hawai‘i’s “new normal.”

The planning phases include stabilization (immediate health and economic needs), recovery (job growth and investment), and resiliency (restructuring for a stronger future). Oshima and Ige also emphasized the importance of seeing the entire chain of economic recovery – from agriculture and energy to tourism, non-profits and social services – and how to rebrand Hawai‘i as not just a pretty place, but a safe, healthy state that depends on residents and visitors alike acting responsibly. Learn more: recoverynavigator.hawaii.gov

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While he is supportive in the state’s planning efforts reopen the economy, Mayor Harry Kim said “we should be careful.”

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“There’s very little we know about this disease,” Kim added. “We have to be aware of what we know and don’t know so we don’t have a setback.”

Kim was criticized during the initial spread of the virus as not doing enough to protect Hawai‘i County by not ordering business or park closures, like his fellow mayor counterparts. He said from the beginning, he wanted to operate the closure or opening of businesses based on their risk, not on their essential service, per se.

“My goal was to minimize where and how coronavirus was spread from the beginning,” Kim said.

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The mayor’s position is if a business meets the CDC guidelines for protection against COVID-19, they should be allowed to remain open.

Kim specifically cited bookstores and bike shops forced to close due to the pandemic. Both businesses, he said, provide outlets on how residents can remain mentally and physically healthy during a stay-at-home order. With larger businesses allowed to remain open, Kim thinks it’s unfair and counterproductive.

Big Island businesses continue to follow the governor’s guidelines as some prepare to reopen. Julie Hugo, Vice President of sales for Clark Realty, said she supports Ige’s phased approach to reopen the economy.

Since the outbreak started, Hugo said their business offices have been closed, but they continue to do business. Any interactions with the public are conducted following CDC guidelines.

“I think we will move carefully forward,” Hugo added. “We’re constantly balancing economic benefits to public health with the safe guards in place.”

Kevin Walmsley, realtor for Elite Pacific Property, has also been working remotely during the pandemic, but most of the real estate business has stalled out. He has been doing business on a case-by-case basis, however, there is no planned date for the company to reopen at this time.

“The bulk of the market is people moving over here to retire, buy a second home or a condo,” Walmsley said.

Right now, he said, everyone is weighing public health concerns with the reopening of the economy.

“I think it’s better to be conservative,” Walmsley said, adding he believes it’s presumptuous of any company to reopen its doors at this point.

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