Sorry, Hawai’i is Closed: Come Back Never

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


Sorry, Hawai’i is Closed: Come Back Never. 
By Raven Yamamoto

There is no pain like that of not being able to hold someone that’s right in front of you. When I got home after being evicted from university, there was no grace period between the moment I landed and the moment I began my state-mandated quarantine as a returning Hawai’i resident. Instead of the warm embrace my father and I usually share at the airport after months without seeing each other, I was met with distance. When I walked through my front door, my grandma was smiling at me from the kitchen instead of right by the door where she’d usually be to hug me hello. I was told to shower immediately so that the clothes I wore on the plane could be washed, and to wipe down the outside of my luggage. When I’d finally settled in, my father explained that if I needed anything, it would be brought to my door. I was to keep from crossing paths, especially with my grandma, and only come outside if it was absolutely necessary while I waited out my two weeks of isolation. 

It had taken all of 20 minutes for me to go from being excited to see my family to feeling like a burden on them, and for the first time ever, my house didn’t feel like home. 

Since reporting its first case of coronavirus on March 6, Hawai’i is now seeing what will probably be the first of many deaths that will rip through the Islands. Part of me had hoped it would never reach us, that our isolation from the rest of the world would finally be an advantage, but it seems that that hope was too high. It has only taken one month for the state to document over 300 coronavirus cases with an average of 20-30 new cases reported per day. We had our first two deaths last week and, at the time of writing this, it breaks my heart to say that the state has just seen its third coronavirus-related death after losing elderly resident Arthur Whistler. Whistler tested positive for the virus after returning from a trip to Washington state and was diagnosed on March 8. He was 75 years old when he died on Apr. 2 while being hospitalized. It’s been estimated that Hawai’i will see a devastating total of 372 deaths due to coronavirus by early August. 

While there has not been an official travel ban put into effect by the state, Hawaiian Airlines has announced that they will be significantly reducing the number of operating flights they provide in light of the new stay-at-home order and to combat the spread of the virus. The airline will now only provide a limited number of daily flights between neighboring islands and only one flight per day between Los Angeles (LAX) and Honolulu (HNL), as well as one between San Francisco (SFO) and Honolulu (HNL). In theory, this will lessen the number of people from outside of the state coming in and out of the Islands.

On the off chance that you’re seeing these flights as small windows of opportunity for you to capitalize on cheap plane tickets to Hawai’i— don’t. There is a reason why Governor Ige is asking all travellers to delay their trips here for at least 30 days. If it were up to me, I’d ask that you delay them indefinitely, if not permanently. To even consider traveling here for a “corona vacation” just because prices are low is inhumane. In a great Vox article about the subject, executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women Khara Jabola-Carolus says: “Crisis tourism is a billionaire bunker mentality. A crisis erupts and you jet off with no regard for the impact on the host place.”

It seems that people still need to be reminded that when you go against the advice of the Center of Disease Control (CDC) and refuse to stay home, you are risking the health of anyone you come into contact with, not just your own. It’s more than just you potentially carrying it, it’s about you spreading it. The entire “if I die, I die” rationale being spewed by young adults isn’t quirky or edgy— it’s dangerous. You might think that the only life you’re risking is your own, but in reality, you are aiding what could become an epidemic that our islands and our people are not equipped to survive. 

In fact, Hawai’i probably wouldn’t have most of its cases, if any, had it not been for tourists. Hawai’i’s first cases of coronavirus have all been travel-related. Our first confirmed diagnosis was a man who had been on a cruise ship from California to Mexico with people who were carrying the disease. Shortly after, a couple from Indiana traveled to Maui and then Kaua’i after knowingly having come in contact with a COVID-19 patient from home and later tested positive for the virus. Maui’s first case was a Canadian flight attendant. The virus didn’t grow legs and buy a plane ticket, it was brought here— intentionally or unintentionally. What’s worse is that there are little to no consequences for the people who do travel here carrying it because they could, quite literally, bring the virus with them and then leave it behind.

If the virus continues to spread, Hawai’i’s most vulnerable and at-risk populations will suffer. While many like to think of us as an escape from the rest of the world’s problems, we are just as disadvantaged by social issues. The state of Hawai’i was ranked third in the nation last year for its rate of homelessness. 14% of our population is over the age of 65. 10% of these seniors live below the poverty line. Our prison population is nearly 7,000; our incarceration rate places only second to the U.S. when ranked against other countries. In some areas, our unemployment rate will skyrocket to 70%. The spread of the virus, as it infiltrates our facilities and institutions, will only further deteriorate the health of those with little to no access to healthcare, ultimately making them more likely to die from COVID-19.

Hawai’i is also not equipped to handle an outbreak the same way the continental U.S is. The resources we do have are not only less in comparison to the rest of the country, but harder to come by. On Maui, we have one Target and one Costco, and they’re already seeing low stocks faster than stores can replenish them. Foodland has already started special shopping hours just for kupuna, or seniors, to ensure that they don’t go hungry. But if things get worse and supply doesn’t meet demand, there’s no neighboring city or town that we can drive to as another option. Once our shelves go empty, we have no choice but to wait on more shipments of product because we rely on imports. These shipments, inevitably, take time—something we soon won’t have. 

Our islands also don’t have the hospitals needed to accomodate a large number of sick people. On Maui, we have one acute care facility for the entire island. We are estimated to have major shortages of hospital beds and ventilators by the hundreds in early May, when we are expected to see our peak in virus-related deaths per day. 

Our numbers may not seem as devastating as those in other states but I urge you to remember that even one death is too many. Another death is another family member and friend lost. I worry everyday for my grandmother’s health, knowing she is more vulnerable than most to the virus. My grandmother has raised me ever since I was a child and has always loved me unconditionally. I can’t imagine life without her. If she became ill because of an irresponsible tourist who didn’t think about the lives of others before their desire to travel, my rage would eat me alive. I don’t think I’d survive the grief.

So if you need a sign, here it is. I’m begging you to cancel your trips to Hawai’i. I'm begging you to stop treating our islands as an escape, especially during this time. If you have to come back, if you must know how desperate I am for you to stop, I can assure you— our land and our culture will still be here for you to exploit when it is safe for everyone to travel. But not now. If this pandemic has proven anything, it is that we are a home before we are a tourist destination. We are a community before we are a group of “locals.” We’re people, the same as you, that need to heal and take care of each other during this time of crisis and need. 

We all have families that we need to take care of. I just want to be able to hug mine again. But I can’t do my part if you won’t do yours. Stay home and I’ll do the same. 

This is the opinion of Raven Yamamoto, a junior journalism major from Kahului, HI.

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