State plan to reopen Maui highway draws resident concerns

WAILUKU — A Hawaii state plan to reopen a Maui highway to motorists from the general public has caused concern among residents who want to protect the rural area from the coronavirus.

The state Department of Transportation announced it would reopen Hana Highway to all motorists beginning Wednesday, The Maui News reported.

The east Maui access road has been blocked to nonresidents since March 18 over concerns about COVID-19 spreading to communities with limited health care facilities.

About 7,000 residents received placards allowing passage through roadblocks overseen by Hawaii National Guard troops.

The transportation department closed the highway March 18, citing the need for construction projects, although Democratic Gov. David Ige did not mention construction when he barred travel on the road to everyone except residents, first responders and delivery vehicles.

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said he planned to discuss the highway reopening Sunday night with state officials including Democratic Rep. Lynn DeCoite and Sen. J. Kalani English, the Democratic majority leader and a Hana resident.

The road closure showed the understanding state and local government officials have for the area’s limited resources, English said.

“If people got sick, it would have overloaded our whole system there,” English said.

Some area residents said they have mixed feelings over opening east Maui to outsiders while national coronavirus case numbers continue to grow.

“People are just rushing (the road reopening), and next thing you know the numbers are going to just rise more and more,” Hana resident Lehua Cosma said.

Hana has a single medical clinic, one firetruck and one ambulance and could be crippled by a virus outbreak, Cosma said.

There has been one reported case of COVID-19 from a Hana resident who returned from a trip to Canada in March.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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