There’s 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 my college, 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 shared at the airport after months of not 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 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. For the first time, my house didn’t feel like home.
Since reporting its first case of coronavirus on March 6th, Hawai’i has seen 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’s 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 this 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 and was diagnosed on March 8th. He was 75 years old when he died on April 2nd while hospitalized. It’s been estimated that Hawai’i will see a devastating total of 372 deaths due to coronavirus by early August.
While there hasn’t been an official travel ban put into effect by the state, Hawaiian Airlines has announced that they will be significantly reducing the amount 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 and Honolulu, as well as one between San Francisco and Honolulu. In theory, this will lessen the amount of people 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, I’m telling you right now—don’t. There’s a reason why Governor Ige is asking all travelers 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 see people even consider traveling here for a "corona vacation" just because prices are low, let alone considering traveling in general, 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 it best: “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 CDC and refuse to stay home, you’re risking the health of anyone you come into contact with, not just yourself. 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’re aiding what could become an epidemic that our islands and our people aren’t 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 were all 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, if not more, 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 are people over the age of 65. 10% of these seniors are below the poverty level. Our prison population consists of nearly 7,000 people while our incarceration rate places only second to that of the rest of the U.S. 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 it.
Hawai’i also isn’t equipped to handle an outbreak the same way the continental U.S is. The resources we 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. 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 because of our reliance on imports to sustain ourselves.
Our islands also don’t have the amount of 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’re 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 every day for my grandmother’s health, knowing she’s more vulnerable than most to the virus. I can’t imagine life without her. If she became ill because of some 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 here. I'm begging you to stop treating our islands as an escape like you do year-round, but especially during this time. If you have to come back, I can assure you— our land and our culture will still be here for you to exploit when it’s safe for everyone to travel. But not now. If this pandemic has proven anything, it’s that we are a home before we are a tourist destination. That we are a community before we are a group of “locals.” That 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.