HONOLULU — Health care executives and a University of Hawai‘i researcher believe it’s time to address poverty and housing issues exacerbated by the pandemic, now that the summer surge in COVID-19 cases has begun to subside.
“During this whole pandemic, we’ve had to balance the acute infections – which pose an imminent threat to our public health – with these long-term impacts,” Dr. Mark Mugiishi of the Hawai‘i Medical Service Association said. “We’re at the point now where we have, at the moment, pretty good control of the imminent infections. But … this threat of the impact to our public health of the future is not imagined – it’s real.”
Mugiishi and colleagues spoke during a briefing before the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness on Monday. Each aired their concerns regarding the pandemic’s potential to disproportionately affect vulnerable populations, including low-wage workers and women, in the present and future.
The recent elimination of federal assistance monies to vulnerable groups including ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) families may cause such hardship, according to Carl Bonham of the UH Economic Research Organization (UHERO).
“The transfer payments made many of these households whole over the last year and a half, and the crisis for many of these households is actually just now beginning,” Bonham said. “Or it’s beginning in a much more pronounced way, because the transfer payments are going away – and the job numbers are not positive, either.”
State job growth is down 14% from before the pandemic, and UHERO expects to see further job losses once data becomes available, due to the precipitous decline in tourism in August and September. However, the waning of coronavirus cases caused by the delta variant may set the stage for positive change, as individuals’ mobility is increased.
“This sort of gets to the need to learn to live with the virus and to maintain that care and the masking and having events that are well-managed,” Bonham said. “Because as the mobility goes up, there’s, of course, a risk of additional spread.”
Health care experts echoed Bonham’s statement, claiming Hawai‘i must learn to live with inevitable future pandemics while fixing the socioeconomic problems they aggravate.
Ray Vara, president and CEO of Hawai‘i Pacific Health, claimed “the greatest enemy” to public health is poverty, in a meeting with the media following Monday’s briefing.
The experts did not have definite solutions to these “big, broad” issues broached Monday, claiming the state’s policymakers and greater community must join the state’s health care industry in finding solutions.
“The issues that we’re talking about are really rooted in poverty and housing and social issues and providing support for those,” Vara said. “That gets back to policies about dealing with the pandemic that are narrowly focused on addressing immediate issues around the pandemic, but may be having very, very long-term implications for the economy and for poverty, and therefore have the potential to make things much, much worse, five years, 10 years down the road.”
Scott Yunker, general assignment reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or email@example.com.