Mayor a national celebrity

  • Derek Kawakami via Associated Press

    Mayor Derek Karakami earlier this month introduces his latest “Stay Home, Kaua‘i” video aimed at keeping his county informed and entertained after implementing a curfew to help curb the spread of coronavirus.

LIHU‘E — After strategizing through the day at the Kaua‘i Emergency Management Agency Emergency Operations Center with a team of experts, usually about 15-strong, Mayor Derek Kawakami goes home to his family.

Then, he blows off steam making another installment of “Stay Home Kaua‘i,” a series of small, social-media videos aimed at “breaking up the boredom” and filmed by Kawakami’s wife, Monica Kawakami.

In the videos, which usually last about five minutes, Mayor Kawakami demonstrates how to make no-bake cereal crunch bites and gives mask-making a try, defies gravity with dining-room-table tricks, and shows the secret behind a unique backyard project called “bubble snake.”

Free-spirited, sometimes silly and peppered with jokes, the videos have recently become the subject of national news.

Kawakami told The Garden Island in a Sunday phone interview that the main point is to lift spirits and inspire people to get creative during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s enough negativity and fear going around, and that’s not what people need right now,” he said. The purpose of “Stay Home Kaua‘i” is “to be a beacon of hope.”

The videos started as a bit of a honey-do project — Monica Kawakami is a sixth-grade teacher who was looking for ways to navigate the shifting environment of the virtual-education system. The idea for the videos sparked when the couple was brainstorming ways to keep kids engaged and occupy their time.

“It grew out of a genuine concern for how children are dealing with this complicated situation and how we can connect with them,” Mayor Kawakami said. “It started with a handful of crafts and activities. Early on, we found out parents were also tuning in and found it a way to deal with the situation.”

Associated Press quoted social-media responses to “Stay Home Kaua‘i” on Saturday, showing an outpouring of approval from the community.

“Our Mayor is bettah than yours!!” one woman commented, responding to Kawakami’s stiff-but-earnest version of the Renegade dance to the rap song “Lottery,” one of the most popular dances on social media.

“I LOVE all your postings!” a woman commented on a video. “So fun, so caring, so empathetic, and a blessing to us all, even us who live on O‘ahu!!!”

Kaua‘i resident Michael Miranda said the videos show a human side to the mayor. “On the policy side, I appreciate all the hard decisions he’s been making,” Miranda said.

Miranda told Associated Press Kawakami seemed to be “a couple steps ahead” of Hawai‘i’s other counties — discouraging tourists from visiting Kaua‘i, even before a statewide, 14-day quarantine for travelers arriving in Hawai‘i went into effect.

Kawakami said the videos have given him perspective on a personal level as well. Even holding the position of mayor, Kawakami is more inclined to fly below the radar, he said. He made the choice to show a different side of himself in the videos — one this is less reminiscent of a starched-collared government leader.

“I started off being myself and people responded. They understood it,” he said. “It’s OK for you to feel comfortable in your own skin, and whatever which way you are, you’re perfectly fine.”

Back at the EOC

While “Stay Home Kaua‘i” is going viral, Kawakami says the primary focus is still the county’s response to COVID-19, including plans to lift some restrictions and allow the local economy to start recovering.

Teams of people are working together on strategies for both short-term relief and long-term economic recovery, with a “strong strategy to restart the local economy in a staged, responsible way,” he said.

“We’re looking at May 3 as that date,” Kawakami said. That date is two incubation periods of the virus from the last identified case of community spread on Kaua‘i.

Those models are subject to change as the situation does, and hinge on the cooperation of the Kaua‘i community. Kawakami pointed out that Kaua‘i, while it has an advantage of being a remote island in the Pacific, is also vulnerable by the same token.

“We only have the health-care numbers that we have, and when you have a pandemic where every large city (is affected), we can’t count on the guarantee of outside assistance,” Kawakami said. “We’re especially vulnerable. We have to take care of this fragile island.”

He emphasized personal responsibility, saying the real front line of defense against the spread of COVID-19 is the individual “not doing anything that could potentially get us sick.”

That will be the key to restarting the economy, Kawakami said. Individuals need to keep their guard up and continue to practice social distancing and mask-wearing once they start going back to work.

“It requires self-governance,” he said. “When the public lets down their guard, that’s when we see the greatest risk to the community at large.”


Jessica Else, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or The Associated Press contributed to this report.

  1. LJ April 27, 2020 1:11 am Reply

    Has the May 3rd date been overridden due to the governers proclamation yesterday or are we still going ahead with that?

  2. merri April 27, 2020 2:25 am Reply

    Please show me the proof that home-made fabric masks are a benefit to anyone. Show me the science Please

    1. Michael Mann April 27, 2020 12:41 pm Reply

      If you understand how viruses like this spread, you don’t need to be shown anything (I’m doubtful that you really want to see the science, but this is something you can easily look up online). First, you need to understand that the mask protects OTHERS from YOU, not the other way around. The mask stops droplets and virus particles produced by YOU when you cough, sneeze, or even talk and breathe. These aerosolized droplets can remain in the air for a long time, and be breathed by other people. They can also land on surfaces and be picked up by other people who then touch their face.

      The mask provides a barrier between you and the world, and is better than not having one. The only problem is when people mishandle their masks, don’t wear them properly, don’t clean them, share them, etc. Then they can become another source of contamination.

      People need to use common sense.

    2. Uncle Bradah April 27, 2020 1:16 pm Reply

      merri – there isn’t any science. Virus particles fit through the large holes in fabric. And if you watch anyone in the store with a mask on – they are constantly touching and adjusting it, thereby bringing their hands to their face, what we’re supposed to be avoiding. Even the mayor every day dramatically takes off his mask touching his face. How many people are even washing their masks? This is all a joke with no science behind it, just like everything on Kaua’i.

    3. Alex April 27, 2020 5:53 pm Reply

      Here are multiple studies showing cloth masks (on both parties) prevent disease spread.

    4. Everythingisawesome April 29, 2020 8:45 am Reply

      If you want to see the proof that home-made fabric masks work, don’t waste your time with the CDC link that others have directed you to. The page simply says masks ‘could’ help slow the spread; no evidence or studies cited. But, I guess if it’s on the internet it must be true! The studies referenced at the bottom of that page are case studies in reference to asymptomatic transmission of the virus…nothing to do with masks. There is a nice link if you want to know how to wash your fear-inducing, ineffective mask or how to sew or fold your own while you are under house arrest. Regarding the studies on asymptomatic transmission, the case studies conclude that asymptomatic transmission ‘could’ have occurred. The studies are NOT conclusive proof that it DOES occur. They are not controlled studies so it is just as valid for me to surmise that everyone got it from the same symptomatic carrier and just didn’t realize it.
      To recap what we KNOW (all you ‘science’ buffs, prove me wrong):
      1. Only 21 cases on Kauai. 20 brought it from somewhere else. 1 case that COULD NOT BE CONFIRMED to be from somewhere else.
      2. Symptomatic and asymptomatic infected people visiting, or returning to, Kauai for AT LEAST a month prior to mitigations (distancing, masks, curfew, house arrest) being in place and NO DETECTED COMMUNITY SPREAD despite everyone carrying on as usual
      3. NO deaths on Kauai
      4. NO one has been denied a needed hospital bed on Kauai
      5. NO one has been denied a needed ventilator on Kauai
      6. Sunshine and simple cleaners significantly reduce the effective virus ‘lifespan’
      7. A 0.5micron virus can easily pass through a 20micron opening.
      8. NO reported cases of infected patients turning into zombies
      9. Zombieland 2 > Zombieland
      I could go on…but we both know that few will allow their deeply held opinions to be swayed by facts.

  3. Meryl Mason April 27, 2020 3:50 am Reply

    We watch Mayor Kawakami online here in NYC…. Would be wonderful if he could replace De Blasio, the current NYC mayor! Mayor Kawakami rocks!

  4. Chamundi Sabanathan April 27, 2020 7:23 am Reply

    Since we’re still hearing reports of visitors violating the 14-day quarantine, I hope that well before any easing of our lockdown, all visitors are sequestered in one place where their quarantine can be strictly enforced. Otherwise, what’s the use?

  5. Dan Kapaia April 27, 2020 8:43 am Reply

    Mayor Derek Kawakami, as long as you put on a smile, keep being funny, and get likes on social media, I’m fine with you and the Governor crippling the Hawaii economy indefinitely. We’ll figure it out in the end!

  6. Charles Smith April 27, 2020 9:15 am Reply

    Aloha Still having problems filling my unempmloyment claims system always says experience high volume.
    6 weeks already no money from unemployment insurance.
    No food stamps or government assistance wow just letting the people starve and have no income
    Reopen the economy u took our hope away government is doing poor job
    Thanks concerned citizen

  7. Everythingisawesome April 27, 2020 9:38 am Reply

    As am I.

  8. Rick April 27, 2020 10:07 am Reply

    I was wondering why I had only seen praise on his Instagram. I found out very quickly that any question or mild suggestion was a quick way to get deleted and blocked. Quite the leader…

  9. Alex April 27, 2020 10:33 am Reply

    Kawakami is an amazing leader who saved lives on Kauai. He deserves to be world famous. He was pressured by wealthy interests to keep the tourists (and money) pouring in, but instead he shut down the island WEEKS before the governor or anyone else knew what was happening. He cares more about our kapuna than money. Enough said.

  10. tia April 27, 2020 12:06 pm Reply

    agree on the unemployment, unable to log on or update so no moa money coming in. let us have little freedoms back but still respect social distancing when coming across others. i went for a bike ride and just stopped to check da waves but got scolding from a police officer, no one was around. and y do we have a curfew still and how come no can go for a nice drive cuz we stay in da hot house ALL day! uugh. where does the airline crews quarantine when the one flight to kauai arrives? and is it for 2 weeks then they go back on the plane? do a soft opening i never thought i’d say this but i am ready to kinda go back to work.

  11. Barry Dittler April 27, 2020 12:26 pm Reply

    Well, I know that his heart is in the right place, BUT. I have been getting emails from the mainland (and one friend in Canada) that find it embarrassing and some calling it idiotic for an elected official. He has been dubbed the “dancing mayor” and “bubbles Kawakami”. Really, please stick to official announcements, and get our economy back to work. After weeks and weeks with no new cases, what are you protecting us from with the curfew ? Or the long lines at the stores. Keep control of returning residents and visitors , and let the rest of us have our lives, beaches and parks back, but most importantly, our jobs !!!!

    1. truth be known April 28, 2020 1:27 pm Reply

      Barry, some of my neighbors have begun calling him “Mayor Kamakazi” since he keeps demanding that we commit economic suicide by refusing to open up the island. Given that we have had NO new CV-19 cases in weeks, there is no justifiable reason to continue the lock down on our island. Continue the 14 day quarantine on incoming visitors and residents and enforce it vigorously but open the island to people who live here.

  12. Malia April 27, 2020 2:44 pm Reply

    A leader who cannot answer or chooses to censor anyone questioning his authority is not a leader, he is a dictator (I say this from not only my experience, but that of many others who have confided in me after coming public with this on my personal media accounts). RESPECTFULLY we have written emails, posted comments on his social media, asking sincere questions, sharing information from reputable medical experts, and simply just wondering why there is only praise on his accounts. (no it being a “personal account” does not make a difference. This is a public servant, making public videos on a public page. You want private, you make it private). For saying anything besides praise, you will be blocked within 15-20 minutes. I DARE YOU TO TRY. Be respectful! But ask a hard question. Challenge anything he has done in a kind manner. YOU WILL BE BLOCKED. This is not a leader. This is someone who cannot take respectful criticism or even respond to simple concerns of his citizens. Read through his comments. Anything other than praise? (on insta specifically). A good leader listens to the people, adjusts “plans” when new data warrants it (0 cases Kauai!) shows that we have succeeded in “flattening the curve”. Also, from a nurse in the hospital, the “last case” on kauai has actually been on another island for quite some time due to an underlying condition. Hope you enjoy being lied to by your representatives.

    DID YOU KNOW in “corporate flight: the causes and consequences of economic dislocation” by bluestone, harrison and baker estimate that for every 1% increase in the unemployment causes 37,000 excess deaths in the nation? (heart attack, suicide, homicides, mental hospital admissions an prison admissions)THIS IS WHEN PEOPLE AREN”T IN ISOLATION EITHER. So you can up that number in mental health suicides. in march the FED predicted a 30% rise in unemployment from CV quarantine. THAT IS 1.1M additional deaths – almost 5x the government’s WORST predictions for CV19 deaths.

    You think protestors aren’t concerned about people? We don’t care about haircuts, we don’t care so much about money (perhaps some, who are feeling it big time). We care about the people no one else seems to care about losing their lives on a much larger scale. We care about losing the freedoms to fish (WA), to not go in the ocean (CA), to not buy seeds (MI for a while until they loosened that up). We are concerned about government over reaching for a disease that is showing to have a death rate similar to the flu (If you don’t know about this, please see the new USC and Stanford studies regarding recent antibody testing in CA). Also the WSJ discusses it with Stanford scientist John Loannidis in “the bearer of good coronavirus news”.

    Please stop watching MSM and reading crap news and start looking at whoever they are crucifying, because those being crucified are speaking a different message, based on facts and data, and you need to at THE VERY LEAST hear them out and consider it. It has always been the ridiculed and persecuted minority who have uncovered a deep seated untruth. (bloodletting, washing hands before delivering babies, asbestos, cigarettes, lead paint…etc. etc.). HEAR THEM OUT.

  13. Kauai April 27, 2020 3:10 pm Reply

    This is exactly how someone like Donald Trump got elected. Using social media as a platform to get popular, but essentially ignoring the realistic needs of your constituents. Rarely do I hear this mayor talk about the real issues such as our unemployment crisis or the homeless population. Please don’t let his antics fool you. We need a real leader who actually does his job instead of trying constantly to make the news. How sad for Kauai. We are stuck with such a poor leader with such a disconnect from his actual island’s needs.

  14. lalaland April 27, 2020 3:13 pm Reply

    Despite all of these LOSER comments. Where are they going? DOWN DOWN DOWN

    Mayor Derek Kawakami we are blessed to have you from Kauai, but I know you will be going on to much better and higher office. My predictions are:

    Senator (In Congress)
    Presidential Candidate/vice presidential.
    President/vice president.

    if this doesn’t happen for you, then i predict it for your wife. Or a husband wife team. Why not? Governor, Lt Governor, president, Vice President. It could work!!

    In that order and i will be so proud to say there goes OUR mayor, the PEOPLES mayor, and our FIRST ASIAN AMERICAN/HAWAIIAN PRESIDENT OF THE US OF A!

  15. WAVE S April 27, 2020 4:43 pm Reply

    Yes Mayor Isnt it fun and easy to be interesting while Keeping Kauai prisoners.????

    All the big Boxes are open.

    and the churches and beaches closed ???????? ….. Fun to Ignore the Constitution isn’t it ??

    The Government knows better than the people ??
    Fear Does not count as data.

  16. andy johnston April 27, 2020 9:20 pm Reply

    Hey Uncle Bradah, Dan Kapaia, Wave S, and Kauai-
    Just wanted to thank you guys for all your selfless service and all that you have surely done for our community on Kauai!

  17. bob April 27, 2020 10:10 pm Reply

    Of course this article only gives praise of the mayor. There are many who are disgusted by his tis toks and instagrams. What may seem fun to some is a slap in the face to others. So easy to be home making light of the forced stay at home order while still making his $120,000 salary. Many have zero income and haven’t seen a dime in aid after almost 6 weeks of forced no work. After his day in the office, he should go home and do some homework: educate himself on health, etc as Malia above said. Meanwhile show some compassion for the many who haven’t seen a dime in aid after 5-6 weeks and focus on the job at hand. Hey The Garden Island, why not have a poll on who is happy with the mayor’s social media posts?

  18. randy kansas April 28, 2020 4:09 am Reply

    US Attorney General Bill Barr tells federal prosecutors to “be on the lookout” for overly restrictive coronavirus shutdown orders… type of celebrity….

  19. B4Kauai April 28, 2020 4:51 am Reply

    I will commend the mayor on the job that he has done up until now. He and his Government team must now realize that we are facing both an immediate physical disease as well as an impending economic disease. It’s time to begin rolling out the plan to balance the needs of both. Many of us, his constituents, have taken pay cuts ranging from 10% to 100%. If the Mayor and his leadership team were really with us, they would volunteer to do the same. They’ve announced a cut in programs already, but where is the reduction in staff compensation during this crisis? We all need to do our part. I’ve done mine, personally and professionally, and wondering when our Mayor will literally put his money where his mouth is. Share in our sacrifice and you will develop a more balanced perspective. Let’s do this together!

  20. Barry Dittler April 28, 2020 10:27 am Reply

    Unfortunately, I have predicted the same thing. That has been his ambition all along. He left the state house to run for council. His excuse was he wanted to be closer to his family. Then mayor. Now he is polishing his credentials as a “firm and decisive leader” to run for Governor, or maybe the senate. I knew when he ran for mayor that he is just another politician looking for power. He has failed to explain why we are the only island with a curfew , roadblocks . Why with ZERO new cases in weeks and weeks are we still locked down. Who can we catch the virus from or give it to ??? Can’t go to the store unless you want to stand in line for hours to get in ! Why ?? When is the heavy hand of government going to get off of our back. He is now over reacting !! Keep returning residents and visitor in check and quarantine and let the rest of the island open back up. People are tired of this nonsense ! This is not real leadership, but the heavy hand of government control !

  21. Barry Dittler April 28, 2020 10:37 am Reply

    Dan, he is still getting his pay check, so he can afford to be smiling and doing little dances on social media ! Your tax dollars are still flowing into his pension fund and paying his health insurance. He is feeling none of the pain that all the unemployed workers feel, or the worry by business owners for the very existence of their life long business. This is the face of excess power of the government. Personally, if I want to be entertained, I’ll got to netflix ! Amazing how this managed to make international news (yahoo UK picked it up). I am sure it just happened by accident (sarcasm) !

  22. Barry Dittler April 28, 2020 10:45 am Reply

    But Kauai, he is so good at making bubbles !! He has , at this point, no basis for the curfew or roadblocks or closed county parks since we have NO cases of the virus (in weeks and weeks) or any community spread. Yet, we all still suffer under the draconian mandates that feed his need for power and control ! But, since he still gets HIS paycheck, why should he worry about the rest of us. And, don’t complain, or be banned and shunned (just yahoo , facebook etc, censor criticism of their favorite democrats). I don’t have any social media accounts (thankfully) but fro others comments, he can’t take or accept any criticism or respond to any serious questions. I know that I have sent him several letters and NEVER received a response. Guess he is too busy being a social media “star” to answer to thos that he is supposed to represent !

  23. Coral L Miles April 28, 2020 1:52 pm Reply

    Mayor Kawacomie??

  24. Colin McCleod April 28, 2020 2:52 pm Reply

    Barry…please don’t forget the all important art of arm farting that our illustrious leader has shared with us,
    Colin McCleod

  25. Scott April 28, 2020 6:05 pm Reply

    I think it is good and brave for the Mayor to show his personal side. After all, we are all just people who have our own interesting personalities, some just hide it more than others. I believe he truly cares about the residents on Kauai. The lack of information and understanding of corona virus has led to the need to act quickly and strongly, and it has worked.

    That being said, the challenges of staying at home and not being able to work for so long are too much to bare. Unemployment is near to impossible to get through to make a weekly claim. As some have mentioned above they have gone 6 weeks without being able to get one payment from unemployment. This issue needs to be addressed quickly!! We cannot stay home and not earn money due to restrictions and also not be able to receive unemployment benefits. If you are like my family and cannot get through to file your weekly unemployment claim, please please make a post as well. The more people that post about the problem the faster it can be addressed.

    Now that we are at 0 cases, there needs to be extreme measures taken for anyone coming into Kauai. As the Garden Isle News has reported, there have been a few cases of visitors going to stores and exploring outside and not observing the required 14 day quarantine. I imagine there are many more cases like this that have gone unnoticed. My suggestion is that when tourists arrive KPD transport them to their hotel (they cannot rent a car until after 14 day quarantine is finished) and check in on them daily to ensure they are following the quarantine rules. If something to this extreme does not happen, then the corona virus active cases will start to increase again, then we will be back to square one – can you imagine another two months of stay at home mandates and non-essential job closures?? It seems that at this point, this is the top priority and as much resources as possible should be put into regulation of 14 day quarantines for all arrivals. Whatever the cost is to do this now will surely be worth it to make it possible for us to go outside again and hopefully start earning some money again.

    For those in the tourism industry, I understand these extreme actions will hurt your income, and I truly empathize with you as many of my family members work in the hotels and tour companies, however for those of us who don’t work in the tourism industry we should go back to work and make some money so that we can help support those who have lost their job in the tourism industry.

    Just wanted to share my thoughts.
    Thanks Scott

    1. Everythingisawesome April 29, 2020 4:21 pm Reply

      Well written letter. I would like to address one thing you wrote:

      “the corona virus active cases will start to increase again”

      The cases on Kauai only rose because people picked it up somewhere else and brought it here. For over a month we had sick tourists and asymptomatic carriers roaming the island before “quarantine” with zero spread. We could reopen tourism 100% on Kauai and history, which is the best indicator, would indicate that there would be zero spread. Any leader that doesn’t take this into consideration either has other motives for keeping things locked down or doesn’t have basic logic skills.

      1. Scott April 29, 2020 9:56 pm Reply

        Thanks “Everythingisawesome”

        I understand your logic behind the spread of COVID-19 statistic on Kauai. As you point out the historic facts of Kauai cases show that out of 21 cases all but one of them was travel related.
        However, community spread statistics in many other places are quite the contrary. For example, look at Maui Memorial Medical Center. DOH current research indicates that 59 individuals contracted COVID-19 by community spread from one individual health care worker that was working while being sick. This statistic shows how easily community spread can start. There are many more locations around the US that indicate how quickly community spread can grow exponentially. That is the challenge that I am referring to, when I say active cases could begin to increase again. Thanks for your view and comments.

  26. Katie Jones April 28, 2020 6:38 pm Reply

    I have yet to be able to file an unemployment claim. Been trying for 5 weeks.

  27. Destiny Fowler April 28, 2020 8:51 pm Reply

    Just concerned for all the mandatory unemployed people who can not get into unemployment because the website can not handle the volume of people trying to access the site.

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