Sharing a candid look at coronavirus in Hawaii + what a COVID-19 Hawaii looks like for both residents + tourists
I feel like this post has been a long time coming, because I’ve gotten quite a few questions since March about what life has been like in Hawaii since the pandemic began. I think life in Hawaii during quarantine + coronavirus is probably vastly different from many other parts of the world, so today I thought I’d share a glimpse at the last six months, especially if anyone is planning to visit the Islands for the foreseeable future.
Coronavirus In Hawaii – Quarantine + What Life Has Been Like
COVID 19 Hawaii
Hawaii looked pretty similar to other parts of the world in March and April. Though our local government did not stop tourism right away (and caught quite a bit of flack for it), it did grind to a halt on March 26th when a mandatory 14-day quarantine was put into place. This quarantine mandate is still in effect today, though there is a way around, albeit confusing. More on that later.
The next couple months included the tightening of more and more restrictions, but masks were introduced nearly immediately. Lots of people in Hawaii wore masks already, so this really wasn’t a major hiccup.
Slowly but surely, beaches closed, hikes closed, restaurants closed, stores closed…and they remained closed. People are a little bit shocked to know that Hawaii residents have just very recently been given back the ability to freely go to the beach or hike, but it doesn’t come without rules.
Coronavirus In Hawaii
Let’s talk about where Hawaii is today…
Currently (10/22), if you take a COVID test within 72 hours of arrival at an approved testing location (mandated by the state of Hawaii), get negative results, and upload it to the government website system, you can bypass the 14-day quarantine. That said, your results have to be manually approved by someone from the state (you have no control over this as a traveler) and it hasn’t been seamless. Many travelers have gotten the test, negative results, uploaded it, only to be told at the airport they have to quarantine at an approved quarantine hotel. More on that here.
Travelers are also expected to abide by local rules and mandates and this is the part that might be a little eye opening for many of you. Hawaii has lived this way for six months, so I’m used to it, but I see parts of the mainland living in a much, much different way, so it’s likely very eye-opening and new.
Anytime you are outside the four walls of your home, you have to wear a mask. There are a couple exceptions (like actively exercising), but you will see people even exercising in them, because fines. Yes, fines. If you are caught without a mask, you will be fined. I can’t speak for other Islands, but I have seen more police out that I ever have in nearly 10 years here on Oahu.
Oahu (just today!) entered tier 2 of a tightly sanctioned “tiered re-opening schedule” that really limits what is able to open and how they’re able to do it. Even in tier 2, it’s illegal to gather in groups larger than five, and the local government has made it clear we can go back a step at any time.
Eating in restaurants, for example, is something both Dane and I love to do, but let me walk you through what that is like right now. For starters, many of the places we love haven’t even been able to re-open yet. Some of the ones that have are only offering take-out and for the small percentage of ones that are offering dine-in, it goes like this: reservation in advance, register for contact tracing by providing I.D. and contact information, get your temperature checked, time limits on tables, no menus (scan a QR code at the table), and limited menu choices.
Let me say that I COMPLETELY understand, respect, and appreciate why restaurants are doing this (frankly, I’m happy they are being so cautious). In that same breath, the carefree idea of just going out to get a bite to eat or enjoying drinks doesn’t exist here. Everything has to be planned. Just going out for drinks isn’t a reality either, because all bars remain closed. Also, some restaurants are open to locals only.
I talked a little bit about what to expect in my travel piece for CNN about Hawaii’s re-opening, but at places like Ala Moana and International Marketplace, signs like these greet you and prohibit visitors from sitting or hanging out in public spaces.
For many people who live in Hawaii, going to places like the grocery store, Costco, or Target is an event. Hours for kupuna (grandparents) are in effect at many stores, which gives our older population an opportunity to shop in a safer environment. Grocery store lines to get in are very real (especially at Costco), and items aren’t always stocked. It’s the reality of living on an island with finite resources doing the best it possibly can to keep residents safe.
One thing I do want to note is that it’s very easy to look at our (collectively as a state) case count and think “that’s not bad” or “well in my state…” but you have to remember that not only are the Islands limited in resources, those resources are finite. And that doesn’t just mean hospital capacity, supplies and space. It also means doctors and nurses that can treat patients. As someone with a husband who works in logistics for a hospital and medical facility here, seeing some of the ratios can feel very overwhelming.
I guess this brings me to – how do I feel about all of this as a resident? This is a hard question for me to answer, because I see both sides of the coin. Hawaii is reliant on tourism for so much revenue and I have hundreds of friends who work in the hospitality industry that are floundering. I also have friends who were born and raised in the Islands who cannot send their kids to school (yes, it’s still largely virtual here), cringing at the thought of welcoming tourists to their home. I think a big sentiment of locals is that they wish the state was not so reliant on tourism for money and that they would have used the last six months to figure out alternate revenue streams.
I’m not, in any way, sharing this to scare anyone. I’m laying it all out as someone who lives here and works within these mandates every day. And admittedly, yes, it’s mostly just easier to stay home sometimes and keep to the secret beach spots and restaurants we know and love, as opposed to mingling within the thousands who have arrived since pre-travel testing was approved. 50,000 arrivals in less than a week…whew!
A part of me also wants to document this here to hold space for a very weird time in life (for all of us, regardless of location) so that one day I can look back on it and remember it for what it was – for better or worse.
What are things like where you live?