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Sentiment of Hope Abounds Moving into 2022

By Tiffany DeMasters
December 31, 2021, 12:53 PM HST
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There is a sentiment of hope that 2022 will usher in more normal times after nearly two years of health, travel and social restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The coronavirus was declared a worldwide pandemic by the World Health Organization in March 2020. The onslaught of the virus impacted society on multiple levels, forcing states to shut down in an effort to stem the spread of the deadly illness, which crippled the economy resulting in thousands of jobs and businesses were obliterated.

From a health care standpoint, Hilo Medical Center spokesperson Elena Cabatu said 2021 was a year of hope as the COVID-19 vaccine had become available and to the public. However, the Delta variant hit the Big Island hard over the summer.

“It hit us differently. Younger people got sicker,” Cabatu said. “It was a surge of intensive care patients. It was an incredible amount of strain on our intensive care unit.”

Throughout the pandemic, Cabatu said HMC was able to pull together tools they needed to ensure they could continue offering proper care to not only COVID-positive patients, but those suffering from other ailments as well.

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With the presence of Omicron variant, Hawaiʻi is now going through a third surge in COVID cases since the onset of the pandemic.

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“It’s just been a whirlwind,” Cabatu said of 2021. “We have tools to fight this variant but it is a question of if we’re going to do what we need to do to stop the spread.”

When it comes to the pandemic, Cabatu said seeing is believing.

“If we’re seeing numbers decline it would lead me to become more optimistic,” Cabatu said.

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Cabatu said she is seeing more people getting tested and more people asking where they can get COVID booster shots.

“My New Year’s hope is that everyone changes their behavior,” Cabatu said. “I do feel we’re closer than we were months ago to get out of this pandemic. But I’ll still reserve some optimism because who knows what wrench is thrown into this pandemic.”

As a businessman looking back on the past couple of years, Joe Webster, owner of Big Island Jeep Rental told Big Island Now that he thought 2021 was more difficult as a business owner than in 2020. While most of his operation was shut down due to the pandemic in 2020, there was federal assistance that helped ensure small businesses could continue to operate. That financial help dried up this year.

In 2021, Webster noted a rebound in some business. However, that changed after Gov. David Ige rolled back pandemic restrictions as a result of the Delta surge in August.

“We know that it is not a good time to travel to the islands,” Ige said during a press conference on Aug. 23, 2021. “The visitors who choose to come to the islands will not have the typical kind of holiday that they expect to get when they visit.”

Webster said the whole economy tanked after that. “We were getting cancelations after cancelations.”

Going into 2022, Webster is hopeful that the state will remain open, however, “we’d all feel a lot better if Ige said he won’t shut down again.”

While he thinks January will be an interesting month for Hawaiʻi County amid the Omicron surge, Mayor Mitch Roth is optimistic for 2022.

Roth took office as Hawaiʻi County mayor in December 2020. On Thursday, he told Big Island Now he thought the pandemic would be over and his focus would be to create jobs. As of now, the pandemic continues to linger and while jobs have become available, the mayor said he was surprised to see there weren’t enough people to fill those vacancies.

Roth said he saw some great things happen in 2021 as far as changing county culture and taking on sustainability.

“We started some demolition of the permitting process to put it back together,” Roth said. “I think next year we’re going to get better.”

The mayor believes the county is well-equipped to move forward into 2022 as the pandemic curveballs allowed the county to focus on things they might not have done before. Roth specifically recalled the success of countyʻs first virtual Sustainability Summit and the Big Island’s progress bolstering renewable energy.

“I see more positives than negatives moving forward into 2022. I’m moving forward with excitement,” Roth said.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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