The coronavirus pandemic has us all sitting on the edge of our chairs, wondering what will come next and when it will be over.
In some ways it is like waiting for a hurricane. But many of us today feel more frightened than when we are facing a storm or flood waters.
When a hurricane approaches, we watch its progress, and within a few days we know the outcome. We anxiously watch flood waters rise and start to recede. Then we roll up our sleeves and go about the business of recovering and rebuilding. Kaua‘i is very good at this. We’ve had a lot of experience.
A pandemic is a different kind of natural disaster. Many of us have watched its progress for months. Unlike a hurricane or tsunami, the pandemic’s end is far in the future.
In this disaster, our community working together can minimize the impacts. We can weather this storm with less damage than it has caused in other parts of the world.
Why do I think we may be more successful than others?
We can control travel to and from our community. Through efforts by the mayor and the governor, arrivals from out-of-state and even from other islands are much reduced. This means fewer opportunities for the virus to be imported to our community, and better protection for us.
As I write this, all the COVID-19 cases on Kaua‘i became ill as a result of being exposed elsewhere. We are the only county in the state that has not yet experienced community transmission of COVID-19, meaning no one has picked up the virus in our community.
We are at a critical juncture on Kaua‘i. The earliest cases were visitors, but now most are Kaua‘i residents returning from travel to the mainland. When residents come home, we don’t stay in hotel rooms and visit tourist sites. We go to our homes and greet our loved ones, often in crowded, multi-generational houses. We like to be together and we can’t avoid being together. This puts all of us at greater risk.
As Kaua‘i District Health Officer, I want to express my deep appreciation for everything our residents are doing. We are all making sacrifices: some by working long hours to maintain essential services, and most by staying home as much as possible.
The kinds of measures we are using on Kaua‘i have worked before in other locations and in other epidemics. But they don’t work immediately.
COVID-19 has an incubation period of up to two weeks. It can take as long as two weeks for a person to get sick after being exposed to another ill individual. So the new cases are in people exposed before the mayor and governor put in place measures like the overnight curfew, the stay-at-home order, and the 14-day quarantine on travelers. Those measures are powerful, and we will see their impact. It will take two to four weeks to see the slowing of disease spread. But we will only see the flattening of the curve if we all act together and we follow these powerful directives, now and in the weeks to come.
Here are the things we can all do to continue to protect our island:
1. “Stay at home” means just that. All of us should be staying at home as much as possible. That includes workers with essential duties. They need to come to work, but when they are not at work they should be at home. When getting food, caring for others or exercising, each of us needs to spend as little time with others as possible. The less interaction we have with other people, the less opportunity we give the coronavirus to spread from person to person;
2. If you are sick, stay home at all times. This is especially important if you have essential duties. The last thing you want to do is to expose other essential workers;
3. Avoid traveling off-island. Even travel to neighbor islands poses more risk than staying home. Mainland or foreign travel poses even greater risk. Everyone who travels must stay home at all times for 14 days after returning;
4. Wear a simple mask any time you go out or are around others. Keep your germs to yourself. You don’t need a surgical mask or a respirator. Our health-care workers and first responders need those. A home-made cloth mask or even a bandana will keep your germs to yourself: “My mask protects you and your mask protects me.” Together we can protect each other;
5. At all times, whether at home or at work in an essential function or working from home, observe the basics:
• Keep a distance of six feet from others;
• Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly;
• Cover your coughs and sneezes;
• Clean surfaces frequently;
• Avoid large groups and gatherings.
These are unusual times. We need to be kind to ourselves and those around us. Please be generous in whatever ways you can, and don’t hesitate to ask for help. There is no shame in having this disease or in experiencing any of its far-reaching consequences — emotional, financial, fear, loss and anxiety. Reach out to those who can help and take time for the activities that sustain you.
Finally, a word about testing. If you think you need to be tested for COVID-19, here are some things you should know:
• You must call your doctor first and discuss your concerns. If you and your health-care provider decide that you need to be tested, your doctor will order the test;
• After you have an order from your doctor, you should follow his/her directions to be tested;
• While you wait for the results of your test, you must stay at home in quarantine. If the result is positive, your doctor and the Department of Health will contact you with further instructions;
• Please note that being tested when you feel well is not generally recommended. A negative test today does not mean you won’t become sick tomorrow. Similarly, a negative test will not shorten your quarantine period.
Thank you for doing your part to protect your community.
Dr. Janet Berreman is the state Department of Health Kaua‘i district health officer.