From the governor: ‘Cautious optimism’ for the road ahead

Posted on Oct 27, 2021 in Capitol Connection, Featured, Main

Cautiously optimistic” — that’s how Governor Ige, the mayors and health officials (along with the rest of us) are describing how we’re feeling right now about the pandemic. It’s a dramatic change from a few weeks ago when Hawai‘i saw soaring COVID-19 case counts because of the Delta variant. Hawai‘i is in a much better place now, but we’re not out of the woods yet.    It’s up to all of us to still take precautions with the holidays coming and the threat of the virus still out there.

Over 400,000 people are not yet vaccinated.

Over 400,000 people are not yet vaccinated.

Q: If COVID-19 case counts keep dropping, what can we expect in the next few weeks?

A: We’re definitely looking at how we can calibrate a “new normal” as we learn to live with COVID. Our goal is to get to a lower baseline in cases, so we can open up activities steadily and gradually instead of a rollercoaster of openings and restrictions. We’re focusing on resuming activities in a smart way that doesn’t put our community in jeopardy. We’ve been meeting with businesses and event planners to identify best practices that reduce risk and allow them to operate safely.

Q: Is that the strategy behind opening up UH sports to fans and other events?

A: Yes, the mayors and I just don’t want to relax restrictions too soon and end up with another spike in COVID cases. We know that the more people we allow to gather, the higher the risk. That’s why,  under Safe Access O‘ahu for UH games, we started with limited attendees and precautions. We’re still a very isolated community for health care. That’s why we need to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed, and we continue to urge people to get vaccinated. Every person has a role to play in the fight against COVID.

Q: Are we in a better place to welcome visitors, especially if it helps create more jobs? What is the economic outlook?

A: Yes, our COVID case counts are down and our vaccination rates keep growing. We also have the promise of boosters and shots for children, ages 5 to 11. But we continue to urge people to take precautions so we can open up more activity. We want to welcome fully vaccinated travelers, and we’ve been working with the airlines and hotels to reemphasize that we expect our visitors to wear their masks as well as be respectful of our island environment and culture. The state is actually ahead of projections for an economic rebound. We also just sold a record $1.88 billion in general obligation bonds to fund new and existing  projects and support the state’s economy.

Q: What’s your response to critics who say you’re either being too cautious or not cautious enough?

A: There’s no playbook for COVID. We’re facing most of these issues for the first time. When you’re a governor or mayor, you know every decision will be second-guessed. I can tell you, when the case counts exploded, I found it hard to sleep. We were way over anything anybody had anticipated, and the hospitals were saying, “You’ve got to do something. We’re on the verge of rationing care.” That was a really, really difficult time. We had to make it a priority to save lives.

Q: Looking back on the past year and a half, what are you most thankful for?

A: I’m so proud and thankful to be the governor of Hawai‘i because our residents have been willing to sacrifice personal interests for the good of the community. The results are clear. Hawai‘i has done better than virtually all other states in managing the pandemic. Our community understands kuleana and what it means to be part of the solution instead of adding to the problem. People have stepped up to help each other and take personal responsibility to keep our community safe. I know it hasn’t been easy, but I believe our sacrifices have saved lives — the lives of friends, neighbors and people we’ll never meet.

Read more in the November Capitol Connection newsletter.

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