Honorable senators, representatives, governor, mayors, councilmembers;
It seems HB1286 is progressing, but I don’t think it should, certainly not yet, and here’s why:
• It seems to me that HB1286’s progress is being reported widely, so the political stakes are high and proponents will lose face if they “lose.” So people will fight hard and are less likely to let this bill die quietly;
• There is a steady decline in cases and hospitalizations in the islands, leading to a possible false sense of security given the new variants;
• Some 95% of the population, and their representatives, won’t be affected by HB1286 in the near term — they are already open with a single pre-flight test — so this is not on their radar;
• The widespread belief that with vaccine deployment we’re already out of this pandemic.
As expected, the argument seems to be framed as “for and against” — with one side thinking we are being too cautious, and the other side not cautious enough. The “not-cautious-enough side” is mostly on Kaua‘i, an island with just 5% of the population. So they will lose.
I think the only way to stop this bill, if you think it should be stopped, is to completely change the framing of the argument. Here’s why:
• Since this bill was introduced, the CDC has clarified that after travel one should quarantine for several days and get a second test to exit. Their Feb. 2 guidelines are explicit, including not to travel at all. Safe Travels now clearly goes against these recommendations, and will force all islands to do so. See cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/travel-during-covid19.html;
• The premise is absurd. Kaua‘i’s extra steps given its fragile medical infrastructure (three days on another island or three-day quarantine) and stronger commitment to the science is not preventing visitors from visiting the other 95% (by population) of Hawai‘i. Close to a million visitors have since Oct. 15 — so traveling to Hawai‘i is already pretty easy;
• The Safe Travels program is not foolproof. It introduced community spread to Lana‘i and Maui, which had little or no community spread before Oct. 15. Kaua‘i’s data shows clear that travelers seed eventual community spread. Maui opened and went from 1% of the state’s cases to 18%;
• Safe Travels resulted in Maui not being able to keep schools fully open, while Kaua‘i’s safer steps have kept it in the lowest school-opening tier;
• We have the opportunity and responsibility to keep the variants out until we know more. Letting them in may have very significant consequences, as did opening Maui to community spread. So we should wait;
a. South Africa last week halted vaccine rollouts due to their vaccine’s ineffectiveness against their variant. See nytimes.com/2021/02/08/world/africa/south-africa-Covid-variant-vaccine.html;
b. The Brazil variant seems to evade antibodies, may reinfect, and may be three times as contagious. See aljazeera.com/news/2021/2/12/brazil-says-amazon-covid-variant-three-times-more-contagious;
c. The British variant seems to in fact be more deadly. See timesofisrael.com/uk-study-british-covid-variant-could-be-up-to-70-more-deadly;
d. Denmark has shown clearly that there are two curves — the generally declining total new-case curve and the less-obvious, increasing-variant curve. We seem to be in a race against time. See sciencemag.org/news/2021/02/danish-scientists-see-tough-times-ahead-they-watch-more-contagious-covid-19-virus-surge.
And my more-in-depth overview on the risk variants from last week: docs.google.com/document/d/1h4qvddGAHp03YITI-PpcJSx6dhBCPI31rFdUWdUu37Y/edit?usp=sharing.
Comments, feedback and corrections are always welcome. We’re all fallible, but less so when we share ideas and communicate openly and honestly.
Steve O’Neal is a former UN Disaster Response Team lead.