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.