By Léo Azambuja

“Kaua‘i is on vacation,” was the message sent by Mayor Derek Kawakami in the opening minutes of the COVID-19 Kaua‘i Business Community Webinar Friday morning.

“Things are changing day by day, oftentimes hour by hour,” said Kawakami, regarding actions the county is taking to slow down the spread of COVID-19 on Kaua‘i.

Kawakami and other community leaders took turns in answering questions and clarifying measures taken by government officials related to the virus that has caused a pandemic. The two-hour webinar was put together by the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce, Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau and the Kaua‘i Economic Development Board.

Kawakami imposed a curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. on Kaua‘i, effective March 20. He said one of the main questions he received was how would the curfew flatten the curve, referring to a graphic that shows the spread of the virus through a curve that can either spike or flatten.

The curfew, he said, was implemented to preserve the frontline responders in charge of managing the situation over a long period. Those responders would be firefighters, police, emergency medical responders and health care system workers. If we don’t flatten the curve, he said, we run the risk of overwhelming those frontline responders.

Kawakami said we are used to handle disasters on Kaua‘i — referring to hurricanes, floods and tsunami threats — but the nation steps in during such disasters and provides assistance. With COVID-19, we may be on our own, he said, so we have to preserve our resources so our folks can respond.

Another reason for the curfew was to increase social distancing, according to Kawakami. In the county’s website, they provide daily updates, and one of the topics is the importance of social distancing. Kawakami acknowledged the rules seem complicated, and for that, they did an explanatory video. It’s fine to work within curfew times, but it’s not fine to do pit stops in your way home to hang out with friends. The county has made accommodations as much as possible to provide for normalcy. It’s fine for hunters and fishermen to leave before dawn (hunting is still prohibited at night), but do not use the rules to hang out with friends, Kawakami said.

We all play a huge role in flattening this curve, he said.

Kaua‘i is on vacation, and for the folks who misinterpreted it, to the visitors who are crowding the beaches, the county is shutting down lifeguard towers, Kawakami said. It’s disturbing that some folks would come to our island and disregard our kupuna, our most vulnerable to the virus, he said.

County officials are taking measures to move the crowds off the beaches, but they still have to talk about best practices, Kawakami said. He wants to allow local residents to use the beaches, and county officials will have to discuss ways to “think outside the box” for that, he said.

“We’re bouncing out ideas,” said Kawakami, adding he can’t close the beaches to visitors while still allowing residents to use them, because it could be unconstitutional.

State Sen. Ron Kouchi said he supports a 14-day quarantine for visitors. Although the cases are still in small numbers, when you look at other places, the increase is exponential. He said he hopes there is time to flatten the curve, but we can only do that through decisive action that will hurt.

State Rep. Jimmy Tokioka said Tahiti imposed a quarantine. If we do one here, it will send a message to tourists who come here because it is cheap, and could potentially spreads the virus. They come to Hawai‘i in this time of crisis to have fun, and this is not what our state is about; we should take care of our own and make sure we get through this, he said.

Tokioka said it is his opinion that the state and county governments have the power to stop commercial flights coming in, but it’s a complicated issue. Tokioka himself has a daughter living on the Mainland, and she would be prohibited to come here. Right now, the governor, the lieutenant governor and the attorney general are figuring out how to solve the situation, according to Tokioka. But if we put visitors on quarantine, they’ll stop coming to Hawai‘i, he said.

Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau Executive Director Sue Kanoho said a 14-day quarantine would be a huge discouraging factor for visitors to come to the island. She said this crisis is a new territory for KVB, and they support the mayor in what they can.

After Hurricane ‘Iniki hit Kaua‘i on Sept. 11, 1992 it took about 10 years for the visitor industry to recover, according to Kanoho. But there was no infrastructure because of the physical damage. She said after this crisis is over, depending how long it lasts, it should take about six to eight months, and hopefully less than a year, for the local visitor industry to recover.

Dr. Amy Corliss, Wilcox Health Chief of Staff, said the best thing we can do is to stay connected but as far as possible from each other, at least six feet apart. Stay outside the radius of droplets, she said.

About 80 percent of infected people don’t get sick, many of us who are healthy may not even notice an infection, she said, and most of us will be just fine. But for those who are older or carrying underlying medical conditions it is a different story.

We should keep washing our hands, and also carry a good hand sanitizer. We shouldn’t touch our faces, because the virus enters our bodies through the nose, eyes and mouth.

If you think you might have been exposed or if you are developing symptoms, you should talk to your doctor, she said. High fever and cough are some of the symptoms, as well as shortness of breath.

Corliss said we have resources on the island, and we’ve been ready for quite some time. Wilcox is a large system, with partners on other islands, and they have the ability to transfer patients to other islands if needed.

“We feel absolutely prepared,” she said. “Our community of healthcare providers is as strong as it has ever been.”

There is a drive-through testing site at Wilcox, but people have to have been referred by their doctor to take the test, according to Corliss.

Visit for the county’s daily updates on COVID-19.


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