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A strategy to stay safe as we move to reopen Hawai’i

Posted on May 29, 2020 in Capitol Connection, Featured
Governor Ige’s Facebook Live session with Dr. Edward Desmond and Dr. Sarah Park.

Governor Ige’s Facebook Live session with Dr. Edward Desmond and Dr. Sarah Park.

How do we stay safe in a COVID-19 world as we restart our economy?  That’s the question everyone is asking as we try to figure out our “new normal.” To get some answers, Capitol Connection talked with state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park and Dr. Edward Desmond, head of the Hawai‘i State Laboratories Division. Their answers provide some hope for what Hawai‘i is already doing right as well as what to expect for the future.

Q. From a public health perspective, what is the biggest challenge for us in Hawai‘i to protect ourselves from COVID-19?
Dr. Park: The challenge will be staying safe while maintaining the human connection that makes Hawai‘i special. This virus is going to be part of our lives for a long time. No test, no screening program will keep the virus out, although so far our community has really done its part to control the spread. The young, healthy members of our state may think the virus isn’t going to touch them, and even if they get it, they think they’re going to be fine. To them, I would say they need to think of the people who aren’t as healthy and are more vulnerable to its effects. Now we’re seeing even young kids could be affected. All of us need to take responsibility for limiting the number of people we have contact with. Stay in your “‘ohana bubble” as much as you can.

Q. We keep hearing about the importance of masks, hygiene and physical distancing. It sounds almost too basic for a disease that can be so deadly. Do you expect a “second wave” of the disease?
Dr. Park: The question is how much of a second wave we will see. That will be entirely dependent on us. There’s a lot of concern about visitors, but residents can also bring the virus home as people travel. It’s a respiratory pathogen that relies on face-to-face contact for transmission. That’s why the amount of disease we see in Hawai‘i is really dependent on all the precautions we’re taking now. When the number of cases is low, it’s easy to become complacent.
Dr. Desmond: As basic as it sounds, these measures do work as we’ve seen in Hawai‘i, but it’s not going to eliminate the disease. We’ll have to accept that life’s not going to be the same so we’ll have to continue these practices to balance the risks.

Q. Should we be testing more, especially asymptomatic people?
Dr. Park: We’re looking at testing, first, people who have COVID-19 symptoms, those who are being seen by their healthcare providers, and those in vulnerable populations — say, long-term care homes —  or in households where there is exposure to a positive case. Everyone in that household has to stay in quarantine, and a negative test will not get you out of quarantine. But to go to the general public and just test with no context means you’re only getting one snapshot in time. The test is imperfect in that kind of situation. You could be negative today, but tomorrow you could get infected. Or you could be in an incubation phase where the virus hasn’t produced enough to show a positive.
Dr. Desmond: Our private sector labs have really stepped up, and it’s clear our capacity for testing has increased, including the neighbor islands. Because of the low case numbers, we don’t have to do an arbitrary number of tests, but we do have the capacity in case the numbers increase.

Q. What guidance can you provide for businesses?
Dr. Park: First, don’t rush. There should be a good plan and clear signage to ensure employees and customers are safe. Are high-touch surfaces cleaned? How do you control indoor traffic? We’re talking about changing a culture everywhere around the world, and changing it for the foreseeable future. But we also don’t want a world where we disconnect from each other.

Go to the DOH’s Hawai‘i COVID-19 site for the latest updates.

Read more in the June Capitol Connection newsletter

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