From the governor: Hopeful signs after a long, hard year

Posted on Mar 30, 2021 in Capitol Connection, Featured, Main

No doubt about it – it’s been a tough year for Hawai‘i and everywhere else in the world. But with our COVID-19 precautions, more people getting vaccinated and the American Rescue Plan on the way, the future is looking brighter. So what will the future look like in a Hawai‘i 2.0 economy? The answers to those questions are driving some statewide initiatives to connect people to new opportunities and create a vision for Hawai‘i beyond sand and surf.

Dr. Libby Char with Governor and Mrs. Ige after their vaccinations.

Dr. Libby Char with Governor and Mrs. Ige after their vaccinations.

Q: What is the outlook for opening vaccinations to more people?

A: We’re very encouraged by the community response to all three vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna and now Johnson & Johnson. The Department of Health has begun vaccinating people 60 and older, those with high-risk medical conditions, and more essential workers in the Phase 1c group. We have over 100 sites helping us administer the shots so we can get more people vaccinated as soon as we get more doses.

Q: Why is it still important to take precautions, even if you’ve been vaccinated?

A: While the Centers for Disease Control has issued guidance for people who are two weeks past their final shot, they are still encouraging everyone to take precautions, especially with the increase in variants. The advice is people should still distance and wear masks, unless they’re with other fully vaccinated people or with members of a single household at low risk for severe disease. With the number of COVID-19 cases increasing, we can’t let down our guard.

Q: Are plans under way for fully vaccinated travelers to have a “vaccine passport”?

A: I’m in discussions with the White House, along with the other governors, about making a national vaccination passport a priority. In the meantime, Hawai‘i is working on a pilot project in cooperation with CommonPass, a health information platform, that can access a wide variety of test facilities across the country to validate tests and vaccinations. They have a network of over 30,000 labs that could implement the guidelines to expand our Safe Travels program for trusted testing partners.

Q: Are you and the mayors considering some changes to the Safe Travels program and interisland quarantine?

A: We want case counts on all the islands to decline before we consider lifting the interisland quarantine and pre-travel testing, but we’re glad that Kaua‘i is rejoining the Safe Travels program. Trans-Pacific travelers would still need a negative COVID-19 test result to bypass the state’s mandatory quarantine. We’re being careful because it doesn’t take much for cases to spike.

Q: How will Hawai‘i benefit from the $1.9 trillion federal American Rescue Plan?

A: The good news is the direct aid to states is significant so we don’t have to implement furloughs or layoffs. The funds for Hawai‘i include $1.6 billion to help meet the state’s budget shortfall, payments to individuals and families, $300 weekly unemployment benefit extensions as well as funds to help schools, rent and mortgage relief, support for small businesses and nonprofits, vaccine distribution, Native Hawaiian programs and increased SNAP, childcare and Medicaid benefits.

Q: What do you want people to know as you look back on the past year and forward to the future?

A: At first, the hardest part was taking actions that affected so many people when we didn’t have much science and not knowing who was most at risk. We knew businesses would be hurting and people would be unemployed, but we always put people’s health and safety first. We say in a crisis Hawai‘i’s people come together, and they have. When we implemented restrictions, people listened, so our COVID cases came down to the point that we still have the lowest infection and mortality rates in the nation.

Read more in the April Capitol Connection newsletter.

Subscribe to the Capitol Connection newsletter.