LIHU‘E — Mayor Derek Kawakami addressed members of the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday in an emotional, virtual mayor’s luncheon that touched on the plan to bring students back to public schools and the hardships COVID-19 has brought to the community.
The meeting, which was hosted by chamber President and CEO Mark Perriello, was open to anyone who wanted to register, and kicked off with Kawakami detailing inspirational moments he’s seen over the past few months on Kaua‘i.
“I see folks go out to fish and hunt (and) share it with others even though they are going through their own challenges,” said Kawakami.“When it comes down to it, the people of Kaua‘i are not going to let people get left behind no matter how challenging it is.”
He said his office has also been approached by community members who are now unemployed, asking for ways to lend a hand even though they’re struggling.
“A lot of people who are unemployed approach us to say ‘How can we help?’” said Kawakami. “There are folks like that (who) lost their job, both parents struggling. They have their own fear, but they call the office and ask ‘how can we help?’”
The state’s plan to return students to public-school campuses was also a topic at the virtual luncheon, with Kawakami acknowledging concerns, not with the state Department of Education’s “Return to Learn” plan, but with the timing.
He suggests the DOE should consider reopening after the recovery phase of the state’s plan to reopen the economy, when COVID-19 case numbers have lowered.
That’s in reference to the three-phase plan for reopening Hawai‘i, with Phase 1 being focused on stabilization, testing and quarantine and treatment of COVID-19. Phase 2 consists of reopening and recovery, which begins with gradual, sequenced reopening of normal activities. Phase 3 is building a resilient economy with strong business and job growth.
“My main concern (is that) we are walking into a snake pit by exposing teachers and kids to a potentially dangerous environment if we have not met the benchmarks to move into that recovery phase,” said Kawakami.
“I’m still trying to have a conversation with our governor and the superintendent, because the reopening plan is great, but they have it reopening when we are in the impact level of ‘Recovery.’”
Kawakami also addressed enforcement of the 14-day traveler quarantine, saying the county’s success in preventing the spread of COVID-19 is only possible because the Kaua‘i Police Department bought into the idea that their top priority is to protect the health and safety of Kaua‘i’s people.
He used the example of enforcing the rules in the rental-car industry.
“We are the only island that has a checkpoint at the airport,” said Kawakami. “When we opened up interisland travel, we realized that there is a governor’s order prohibiting people who are subject to the 14-day quarantine from being able to rent cars.”
Kawakami said when his team realized that they weren’t going to get real-time information on how they were going to differentiate who could rent a car or not, in a matter of hours his team created a new program to help with this problem.
“IMT was able to formulate the ‘Mahalo Green Card’ placard program. We were able to give guests a placard so that rental-car agencies know who they can and cannot rent to,” said Kawakami. “At the checkpoint, they are able to say, ‘Hey, look, enjoy your stay,’ and if you are subject to quarantine they are able to collect information and data.”
Stephanie Shinno, features and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.