An open letter to Mayor Kawakami.
Back in June of this year, I, as a Ph.D. virologist, medical doctors and other community leaders came together to help provide state and local leadership valuable discussion points on increased testing and travel-quarantine procedures.
This group, the 2020 Kaua‘i COVID-19 Discussion Group, was fortunate to have discussions with you directly. I was incredibly encouraged as you actively sought to implement additional testing of incoming travelers to Hawai‘i.
As we moved forward with discussions around the importance of testing and quarantining, I was subsequently dismayed as Gov. Ige refused to allow any additional testing of incoming travelers to Hawai‘i.
As we watch with disbelief the events that are unfolding with SARS-CoV-2 infections sweeping through the highest levels of our nation’s capital, we are witnessing in real time the effects of inadequate and inappropriate testing for the virus, the importance of wearing masks, social distancing, and all of the combined and concerted efforts that it will take to intervene with the spread of the virus. Currently, over seven million Americans have become infected with SARS-CoV-2, and over 200,000 have tragically lost their lives.
After almost a year into this pandemic, it is unfathomable that we still find ourselves in a position where state leadership is arguing the merits of increased testing, despite witnessing devastation this virus brings to our local population. From the Big Island veteran’s home to spread in some of O‘ahu’s most vulnerable communities, we do not need to be in New York or Seattle to see how this virus can ravage communities.
We have been exceptionally lucky here on Kaua‘i, having only a small number of active SARS-CoV-2 infections. This is in part due to your early and strong leadership by implementing curfews and limiting travel to Kaua‘i to essential needs only. In the past several months, we had a golden opportunity during our island shutdown to develop a concerted and robust plan to help re-open our islands to travel so desperately needed for our economy. Part of any re-opening plan must include high frequency and continuous SARS-CoV-2 testing for incoming travelers.
The governor’s plan for single testing 72 hours prior to boarding a flight to Hawai‘i, without further testing or quarantining, for a lack of a better word, is lunacy. It is my opinion that not considering adding additional testing as a part of any re-opening plan is reckless, especially in light of the overwhelming data we now have about the virus, it’s incubation time, spread and ability to persist in people without symptoms. While it has been spelled out numerous times in the press, numerous Zoom calls, and even with discussions with you, the problems with the governor’s single-testing proposal have been described ad nauseum. Simply: it won’t work to keep us safe.
But don’t take my word for it. Here is what Dr. Anthony Fauci (America’s premier physician/scientist) said to Lt. Gov. Josh Green on a recent COVID-19 Talk Story:
“If you just do a test 72 hours earlier, and that’s all you do, that’s not going to be enough.”
Abandoned by our state leadership, it is clear that it is up to us to keep ourselves safe from the incoming wave of travelers coming to Hawai‘i (still slated for Oct. 15). It is also clear that we will be relying on our county leadership to augment the paltry testing and quarantine requirements put forward by the state.
Given your continued stated desire to put the safety of your communities here on Kaua‘i as a priority, it is my sincerest hope that you will be receptive to considering the following actions:
• Similar to Mayor Harry Kim of the Big Island, I urge you to exclude Kaua‘i from participating in the governor’s pre-travel testing program;
• Additionally, until a second follow-up testing regimen can be developed, vetted and implemented to potentially help reduce quarantine duration, please retain the current quarantine practice for incoming travelers (both visitors and residents);
• Implement a community-based testing program that is cost-effective and provides early warning of community spread. . This has been implemented with success in other areas of the country, and around the world. At the very least, this type of testing could easily be implemented if a quarantine hotel scenario is still an option.
Ultimately, I am asking that you reject considering any government policies that places economic benefit over our community health. As we have seen played out countless times in many communities on the mainland with this virus, the path of focusing only on economic recovery is unsustainable in the long-term, but is also self-destructive and invariably leads to further suffering and loss of life.
Mayor, none of the choices in front of you are easy, and there is pain and discomfort with whatever path is ultimately chosen. It is my sincerest hope that you can recognize that keeping Kaua‘i safe will ultimately be the best solution for our overall economic recovery.
John P. Alderete is a resident of Kapa‘a.