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Now, more than ever: Fighting COVID-19 together

Posted on Jul 29, 2020 in Capitol Connection, Featured

Mask up . . . keep your distance . . .wash your hands. How many times have we heard Governor Ige and health officials remind us of precautions to keep our community safe? Now, with schools reopening and a new Sept. 1 launch date for pre-travel testing, those warnings should be hitting home. The reality is we’re living in a COVID-19 world with no easy answers —especially for jump-starting the economy. But this much is certain: We all have to take responsibility if we’re going to fight this virus together.

“Mask up” is the main message Governor Ige and health officials want to emphasize in the weeks ahead. Local artist Shar Tuiasoa of Punky Aloha Studios share her island-style support.

“Mask up” is the main message Governor Ige and health officials want to emphasize in the weeks ahead. Local artist Shar Tuiasoa of Punky Aloha Studios share her island-style support.

Q. Why was it important to delay the program for trans-Pacific travel until Sept. 1?

A. The mayors, emergency responders and I all agree that the safety of our community is our top priority. The COVID-19 outbreaks in some of Hawai‘i’s main visitor markets, our own local increase in cases, disruptions in our testing supplies and schools reopening this month all contributed to this decision. We understand that our state’s well-being is tied to restarting the economy and that we need to develop a program that allows us to safely return people to work.

Q. Do we need a stepped-up campaign for controlling community spread of COVID-19?

A. We need to drive home the point that all of our actions are connected. We don’t want people letting down their guard. We’re concerned how quickly the virus can spread from just one person to several individuals in many different settings —inside and outside — and that significant numbers of people may be asymptomatic. For the sake of our whole community, everyone needs to take this virus seriously and do what they can to protect others. We’re also working to ensure we have a baseline of testing supplies we can count on. Right now, the supplies are going to the states with the biggest outbreaks.

Q. What more can we do by Sept. 1 to prepare for more trans-Pacific travelers?

A. We’re focusing on the things we have the most direct control over. That includes our multi-layered system of screening, an app that will help us stay in touch with large numbers of people, and building up the best quarantine enforcement possible. We need to get to the point where every traveler coming off of a trans-Pacific flight will have pre-entered contact information so we’ll know who was able to pre-test and who needs to be checked for quarantine compliance.

Q. Are you concerned that the pandemic has become too politicized?

A. Yes, it’s disheartening that virtually every decision nationally has been based on politics rather than what will help protect communities in this public health emergency. It’s unconscionable that wearing a mask, which health experts have told us can dramatically reduce the spread of COVID-19, has been made into a political statement. I’m proud to see that in Hawai‘i masks are treated as a common sense way to protect everyone.

Q. What help can local residents expect from CARES Act funding? What is the outlook for more federal funds to help the state?

A. For now, we’re working with the state agencies on how to best use CARES Act funds to provide a safety net for all those who lost their jobs. The Legislature designated funds for rental assistance, unemployment benefits, food security and other basic needs. We also need to know whether Congress will provide additional funds to help with our state’s operating costs. Since March 1, we’ve processed more than $2.8 billion in unemployment benefits. I’ve also extended the moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent until Sept. 30. More federal aid will be critical to helping those still out of work and the state’s budget deficit.

Read more in the August Capitol Connection newsletter

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