Keep Kaua‘i kipuka safe

A kipuka is described as a place surrounded by lava, protected and able to flourish. They are often small oases of vegetation and life surrounded by the starkness of new lava flows.

I learned this term from native Hawaiian leaders, Peleke Flores and Dr. Kapono Chong-Hanssen. Hawai’i seemed like a kipuka of safety from Covid-19 until several weeks ago. The United States mainland is surging with cases and as our off island arrivals have grown, so have the cases in Hawai’i. Oahu’s increase appears to be entering the phase of increasingly rapid spread which may become difficult if not impossible to slow down.

I believe Kaua’i and hopefully the whole state should set the goal of becoming a kipuka. If we commit ourselves to being Covid-free or almost Covid free, we could keep our schools, businesses and recreational facilities open for all of us and most importantly we will protect ourselves, our families, our kupuna and members of the community. The question of course is: How do we do this and can we exist with very limited tourism?

The United States has 4% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s cases and 25% of the world’s deaths from this disease. If we don’t limit arrivals, we will become like so many other U.S. tourist destinations, overrun with disease, hospitals overloaded, and forced to shut down the economy anyway. But if we severely limit tourism by returning to a strict 14 day quarantine for all out of county arrivals (including inter-island), we can keep our kipuka status and hopefully remain open for ourselves.

If we can completely or almost completely stop the spread on Kaua’i, meaning we have weeks with no new cases, then and only then we could try to very carefully and strictly open our borders to guests who are willing to take a coronavirus test before getting on a plane and then a second test after 6-7 days on Kaua’i with a strict quarantine until the results of the second test are back. I think the strict quarantine could be made much more enjoyable by having special quarantine hotels and that the strictness of the quarantine could be made easier to enforce with tracing/tracking apps on the phones of all who wish to visit our islands.

I believe we have to understand that life is not going to return to “normal” for a long time. The economic pain for so many is awful but I don’t think we really have any choice. We have to figure out how to create a future that accepts the pandemic raging around us and celebrates the fact that we are surrounded by water and have the history of being the only unconquered island. Like a kipuka in the middle of a lava flow, the elements of the ecosystem protected inside eventually become the foundation of the recovery as we strive to reshape and strengthen our economy.

Please join me in asking our leaders to continue showing the phenomenal leadership they have shown throughout this pandemic and keep Kaua’i kipuka safe. One final point: if we can prove ourselves to be one of the safest tourist destinations in the U.S., other safe countries such as Asian nations could join our kipuka bubble and people from places with more disease might be quite willing to endure the testing and the quarantine hotels to come to a safe place.

This column represents a sharing of information. No content on this column should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinicians.


Lee A Evslin, MD is a Board Certified Pediatrician and Fellow of The American Academy of Pediatrics. He was a former healthcare administrator on Kauai and periodically writes a column for the Garden Island.

  1. Chamundi Sabanathan July 30, 2020 8:36 am Reply

    The idea of a safe destination would indeed be a great draw. And since our only visitors would be those who could could afford to spend the extra time in quarantine, they would probably be spending considerably more, during their stay on the island, than our historically average visitor.

    But we need to not mess around in coming to grips with this problem. Tracking the quarantined individuals’ cell phones would not be adequate, as a phone could be left behind in the hotel room. Ankle bracelets would be much more reliable. Also: all employees of a “quarantine hotel” should be guaranteed hazard pay–and completely free medical treatment if they do get the disease during or shortly after completing such employment.

    1. Everythingisawesome July 31, 2020 4:43 am Reply

      What about visitors with no feet? Neck shackle is better. Everyone has a head.


  2. Chamundi Sabanathan July 30, 2020 8:48 am Reply

    Also, if any resident requiring quarantine must also wear an ankle bracelet, I think we would have much less irresponsible behavior on this island. Not only would the individual himself think twice, but his entire family would be putting pressure on him to behave safely so he would not be putting them at risk of having to wear the ankle bracelets.

  3. Kauaidoug July 30, 2020 11:10 am Reply

    I think a tracker app should be mandatory for anyone from off island and voluntary for Kamaaina. Furthermore, I think every visitor who has an app should have to wear a bracelet showing they are a tourist, who has gone through proper pretest and they have a tracking app. I say this because when I see people who I think are tourist I avoid them “like the plague ” and would not want to be approached for help. Sad but true but if they have an identifier then all good. Draconian, this is what they do in China, what about my rights , you say? This is a public health issue. We already know that the state is struggling if not failing at tracking the limited visitors we have now! If we don’t do something we could get going and we have an outbreak here and we would be forced to close our schools and witness evacuation of tourists again. That could be catastrophic!

    1. Everythingisawesome July 31, 2020 4:48 am Reply

      Also unbelievable.

      “we would be forced to close our schools and witness evacuation of tourists again.”

      Schools ARE closed.
      There ARE NO tourists.

    2. Lizzy August 1, 2020 9:02 am Reply

      I agree with Kauaidog
      The pandemic and the health issue is much much larger at this point then the tourists right travel.

      The app would be helpful but not completely and the bracelet on the ankle would be better.
      I personally have seen many folks now trinkling in wandering around and I know that they are not quarantining.
      They’re so happy to be here and to be away from Mainland, and they don’t actually care what they leave behind here because they don’t live here.
      We see what’s happening in Oahu, this is way way way too close. I just can’t believe the inter-island travel is over and that everyone can come over.

      I only pray that the mayor kawakami does the right thing and shut it all down again seriously for a couple of months and does a wait and see.

      It’s worth it because we’re all going to be dropping like flies here and when people have friends and family that are dying from this then they’re going to finally GET the picture.
      It will be too late then though.

  4. KauaiFarmMan July 31, 2020 7:41 am Reply

    You all so desperately want to trade your freedom for false security. Ankle brackets, tracing systems, quarantines, and the nanny state. Has anyone realized that the death rate is below .05%? This is not worthy of a societal shutdown. If any thing this only proved how media and hysteria has caused us to trade our freedom and businesses out of fear. Open up everything and let’s ride this out. There is no eradication of this virus and we can’t hide anymore. Give us back the world. Stop living in fear.

    1. Lizzy August 2, 2020 12:50 pm Reply


      Although I would like to think
      And I’m sure others also would like to just open everything up but the reality is that we are on a very small Island and fear is necessary to Keep Us Alive.

      Unfortunately though things are getting out of control and the numbers are rising and they will soon be over here. When family members start dying only then will we understand just how crazy serious this virus is.

      I’m hearing from friends in Houston who work in the hospital and live and breathe this. They are watching family members come upstairs to say goodbye to all the people that they have to take off ventilator is because they are passing. By the hundreds, by the thousands.
      I know that if we could go back to lock down again we could save a lot of lives but unfortunately we seem to think that we can save the economy, but you can’t have an economy and work if you’re dead

      I hope the mayor gets tough again.
      And I hate to say it but I’m saying lots of tourists now coming in by the droves and honestly they don’t care what they leave behind because I don’t live here, some do but the majority just want to escape mainland.

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