Open Our Economy Safely

Open Our Economy Safely

Our Working Families Need to Get Back to Work …

Oh, what a relief. After over seven months of shutting down our Maui economy, we are finally beginning to somewhat see a light at the end of the tunnel, by opening our island to visitors so our working families can get back to their jobs and be able to provide for the basic needs of their families. We can do this safely when all of us work together and follow the safety protocols set by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and our local government leaders. Governor David Ige recently announced the State will begin pre-travel testing for arriving passengers on October 15th, after months of delay. This program will allow visitors and returning residents to the island, who test negative for COVID-19 to avoid the 14-day quarantine. Arriving passengers must test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours prior to arrival. In the Governor’s words, “This pre-travel testing will allow us to add a great element of safety for travel into our State.”

Our question is “Why and what took the State so long to institute this pre-travel testing?” The economic impacts and suffering of our residents could have been minimized if the State acted sooner. To give us better insights on the impact of shutting down our tourism industry, here’s some data. In the second quarter of 2020 (April, May, June), the unemployment rate in Maui County increased 27.7 percentage points, from 2.7% to 30.4%. It is the highest increase in the State, according to the State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. In Kahului, where many of our local working residents live, the unemployment rate skyrocketed to 35% in April—nearly 10% higher than the national unemployment rate at the peak of the Great Depression—and the highest of any metropolitan area in the U.S., according to the latest data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the economy of Maui in ways that we have never experienced before. Numerous local businesses have closed and many may not ever open again. How sad to see this happening on Maui. Historic Lahaina is like a ghost town, with many shops boarded up along Front Street and hardly any visitors in sight, not even as we continue to drive around familiar, popular streets. Further, as COVID-19 shut down tourism and airlines stopped coming to the islands due to mandatory 14-day quarantine orders, job losses on the island piled up with unprecedented furor. The quarantine has resulted in virtually no visitors, hence, zero activity in tourism-related businesses that largely rely on visitor dollars. Impacts on our families resulting from the shutting down of Maui’s economy are devastating. Long lines are common at free food distribution sites, as residents are willing to wait in line in their vehicles, for hours if need be, just to receive much needed meals for their families.
According to leading Hawai‘i economists, any attempt to delay the opening of the State’s economy to allow transpacific visitors to the island beyond October 15 is no longer an option. If we do not open our tourism industry safely, which means over 80% of the economy, the potential long-term impacts on our residents will be grim as they will no longer be able to afford to pay their mortgage or rent, purchase groceries, care for medical and other healthcare needs, and face even further challenges for maintaining their daily lives.

Like Lahaina, Pā‘ia experienced its share of shuttered businesses.
Photo: Vince Bagoyo, Jr

As we open our economy safely in these very challenging times of COVID-19, we require a strong leader with steady hands. We are pleased to know Lt. Governor Green, also a physician, will be in charge of the pre-testing initiative for the State. According to Lt. Governor Green, “the pre-travel testing program is going to be another tool and a layer of safety for residents and visitors. Additionally, it definitely provides an economic opportunity for our State when so many people are suffering.”

Let’s all stay safe. Practice all recommended safety protocols: wear a mask, practice social distancing and wash your hands frequently so our tourism economy will be kept open and our workers will finally be back to work with confidence that we are safe. Yes, we can do this. Let’s take care of each other and ourselves, in the ways we know best. Together Maui is strong!

Finally, once again, just a reminder—we are just days away from a very important election. Effective leadership matters. We cannot afford to be silent anymore. The future of Maui and for your family is in your hands! Let your voices be heard—Vote!