The Corona Virus
A public health situation constantly changing.
Vanessa Joy Domingo
Since its debut in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, the Coronavirus has taken the world by storm. To date, there are over 60 countries that have confirmed COVID-19 cases, with a growing number located in the United States. Hawai‘i and Maui are already beginning to show the effects of the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) explains Coronavirus Disease 2019—COVID-19 as an “outbreak of respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus that was first detected in China and which has now been detected internationally.” The disease is believed to be originated from a large seafood and animal market in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China—where many of the early patients were located. This information suggests the disease was spread from an animal reservoir. As more cases appeared with people that did not have direct animal contact, however, it was suggested the disease was also spread person-to-person. Within months, the world watched as the news announced the numbers of cases increasing.
Governor David Ige is gathering available resources to monitor and respond to the potential threat of COVID-19 and has already declared an emergency. “Protecting the health and wellbeing of Hawai‘i residents and visitors is a top priority for the state. We have launched a robust monitoring and response effort and I’m very pleased with the way various federal, state and county government agencies are working together to address this potential threat.
Mayor Michael Victorino in an earlier statement said: “The Office of the Mayor receives daily updates from the Governor’s Office and DOH, which are actively preparing for the possible cases with help from the County of Maui and other state and federal partners including the medical community in Hawai‘i. We urge everyone to remain vigilant and take precautions against the spread of illness, including the flu. These steps include washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and water; covering your mouth with a sleeve or a mask when coughing or sneezing; and staying home when ill. We also are encouraging families to prepare a plan and consider what measures they can take to prevent the spread of illness within their home. Residents should prepare a kit similar to those used during hurricane seasons, including a 14-day supply of food, water and other necessities. Additionally, the DOH recommends a three-month supply of any needed medication and suggests keeping a copy of their prescriptions in case they run out of medication. The County of Maui and our partners are prepared to respond to COVID-19 to safeguard the health and safety of Maui County’s residents and visitors.” Like Ige, Victorino has also declared an emergency.
State Senator Gil Keith-Agaran (Senate District 5 – Wailuku, Waihe‘e, Kahului) agrees with the Mayor. “Hawai‘i needs to prepare like any other state. In a world where travel is more accessible than ever, any city with a major airport is as likely an entry point as Honolulu. Hawai‘i can be bypassed by international travelers coming to the United States and we see only a fraction of the people flying in to visit our country. I am generally confident in the ongoing efforts by Health Director Bruce Anderson and his Department of Health (DOH) professional staff to both prepare and to work closely and collaboratively with the federal agencies and our local hospitals and doctors. If DOH requires additional resources, the legislature will be able to provide an emergency appropriation while we are in session. After May, the Governor can use his emergency authority to prioritize funding in the state budget as needed. DOH is providing almost daily updates on the status of COVID-19. It’s important that people get their information from official sources and not on rumors. I hope everyone pays attention to the information shared by the Department of Health and understands that if COVID-19 spreads that it will take a community effort to get us through this. My office will continue to provide updates as we receive them. Please contact my office via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the email list to receive the updates.”
The Legislature is quickly moving to approve Ige’s request for $10 million in emergency funding for COVID-19 prevention and mitigation. The request provides the Department of Health $6.6M, Department of Transportation $2,788,750; and the Department of Defense $1,180,000.
Maui and the rest of the State have already experienced a number of effects including a run on toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and wipes; cancellation of some events such as the Maui Matsuri Festival in May; and airlines offering liberal cancellation policies. More is expected each day.
Employees in the hospitality industry will be affected as reservations are canceled and visitors carrying the virus such as the tourist from Japan who visited both Maui and O‘ahu as well as cruise ships stopping in Hawai‘i with tourists unknowingly carrying the virus.
Twin sisters who wish to remain anonymous and are identified here as Twin 1 and Twin 2, are on the forefront of the virus—one working for a luxury resort and the other working as a flight attendant. With public concerns running high, these sisters still find enthusiasm with their work.
“I feel that we can be prepared as much as we can be. I think with the precautions my employer is providing, we can be prepared,” states Twin 1. She reflects on how the resort had recently welcomed a group of guests from China. With the spout of news on COVID-19, some of her co-workers were concerned. The hotel’s management, however, did their best to keep their employees at ease by providing hand sanitizers at every entry point and email and print updates on safety practices to prevent sickness. They have been able to keep Lysol and sanitizing wipes within arm’s reach. As an employee at the “front-of-house” and frequently in the eyes of the public, Twin 1 and her co-workers have not been authorized to wear face masks. Some employees that work “back-of-house” have been observed wearing masks. Despite risks of daily exposure to guests, Twin 1 still enjoys being at work. “I love my job. I picture myself retiring here and I do not see myself doing anything else.”
Flying high in the skies—Twin 2 expresses her concerns with global travelers that make their way in and out of Hawai‘i. “You can never be too safe or prepared,” she advises. “As a flight attendant, we are at the front line of any communicable disease outbreak. We are attentive to what’s happening around the world starting with the most recent information and what to look out for.” Unlike her sister’s employer, the airlines have provided additional masks for passengers and allow the crew on duty to utilize mask and gloves throughout their scheduled flight shifts. With the current events, the airlines have welcomed Hawai‘i Department of Health Epidemiologist Dave Johnson into the Crew Resource Office to provide informational sessions on COVID-19 and other pertinent information to airline employees.
The idea of travelling appears to be frightening for most people throughout the world as they observe the news of the virus’ havoc. Airlines such as Delta, United, and American eventually suspended travel to mainland China and Hong Kong due to travel concerns. Considering the recent news of South Korea’s spike of 1,766 confirmed cases of the virus, Hawaiian Airlines announced on February 26 that they would temporarily suspend their five-times-weekly nonstop service between Honolulu and Seoul due to the Coronavirus Outbreak. Service will be suspended from March 2nd through April 30th and resume on May 1st from Honolulu, and May 2nd from Seoul. Delta Air Lines has also confirmed that they would terminate all flights between Seoul and Minneapolis until April 30th.
During a recent trip to Las Vegas, The Fil-Am Voice’s Assistant Editor Alfredo Evangelista and his wife Basilia observed the following: on the airlines, many passengers brought wipes to clean their seats; the flight attendants came around to pick up the disposed wipes; the flight attendants wore gloves when distributing food and beverages; after each use of the bathroom, a flight attendant would spray the restroom; not too many passengers wore masks but some had some fancy and color coordinated ones; at the Aria hotel, an employee was wiping the escalator handrails; more folks are washing their hands in the bathroom; and many of the Las Vegas hotels had only cold water in the bathrooms. According to Evangelista, there also appeared to be less tourists, especially visitors from Asia. Interestingly, not too many folks in the casino were observed to wear masks or wipe the slot machines prior to play. Evangelista spoke to several Las Vegas retail employees who confided that some of the full-time hotel employees were placed on part-time status.
The Fil-Am Voice’s Editor, Vince Bagoyo, Jr. observed: “We need to brace ourselves for the impact of the Corona virus. Besides the physical impact, expect the economic impact on our working families. There may be major layoffs on the horizon if this virus is not contained. As we all know, for Hawai‘i/Maui, 75% of our local economy is dependent on the visitor related industry. With airlines cancelling/cutting down on flights and corporate events being cancelled, it will soon impact Maui’s visitor industry and resulting to layoffs. There are signs based on the recent volatility of the Dow and NASDAQ for the past week—it’s worse than the 2008 recession.” Bagoyo explained: “I’m concerned on the virus’ impact on our Filipino workers who are dependent on the visitor industry. During the 2008 recession, many lost their homes because we were not prepared for the potential economic change on our standard of living. I believe many economists recommend having savings of at least six months to ‘ride out’ a potential economic downturn.”
Public health nurse Jeny Bissell of the State Department of Health reminds us to stay positive: “We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, clean air, clean water, great outdoor living spaces, access to fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and healthy options. These are all protective factors available to us that should be part of our activities of daily living that keeps our immune system strong and healthy. We must remember that germs including viruses and bacteria are everywhere. There are good bacteria and there are bad bacteria. These germs become bad when they are taken out of their natural environment into an unknown environment.”
Bissell also forwarded the following statement from the Department of Health:
“The Department of Health is committed to sharing information as it becomes available. People are urged not to spread misinformation or inaccurate statements that are not confirmed, and keep updated and informed on the situation. Everyone can help prevent the spread of respiratory illness with these everyday actions.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
• CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from illnesses, including COVID-19. Keep in mind that supplies are limited and we need to make sure there are enough masks for our front-line health care workers. If you are sick then wear a mask to protect the people around you.
• Prepare for the possibility that people may want to stay home or may be asked to stay home to prevent the spread of illness.
o If you have daily medication needs, have more than a week’s supply on hand and have as much on hand as your insurance will allow you to have.
o Not everyone can afford to stock up on supplies or has the space to store them, but anything you can arrange in advance means one less inconvenience or one less trip to the store while you are sick.
o Make family plans for the possibility of school or day care closures. Do some contingency planning in advance at the family level.
• Sign up for public notifications at health.hawaii.gov/news/covid-19-updates.”
The situation of the COVID-19 virus will constantly change. It’s important however to get accurate information and not rely on Facebook or any other sources that are not credible. For the most up-to-date information, visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and the State of Hawai‘i Department of Health:
Stay well and safe.
Vanessa Joy Domingo is a graduate of Maui High School and is currently attending University of Hawai‘i Maui College. She is employed with the County of Maui – Department of Management, IT Services and Coldwell Banker – Wailea Village as a Realtor and is the 2018 Miss Maui Filipina. When she has free time, she loves to go fishing, go to the gym, and practice aerial silks. She is currently preparing for the Mrs. Hawai‘i Filipina Pageant and hopes to best represent Maui this year.