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VOICES: Rep. Saiki proposal serves O‘ahu, not Kaua‘i

Dear Senator Kouchi and Representatives Morikawa, Nakamura, and Tokioka;

Kaua‘i needs your intervention to mount an energetic opposition to the bill that House Speaker Saiki has announced he intends to introduce early in the next legislative session.

The expected bill would impose on the mayors of neighbor islands the obligation to all follow a single rule for admission of arriving travelers to the state.

Such a move would thereby strip each mayor of the ability to use close knowledge of his island in determining the safest protocol to meet the needs of the island he governs.

Saiki justifies the imposition of uniformity by a desire to reduce confusion for travelers and the travel industry.

If uniformity is really to be desired, then the uniform rules should be those that have proved the most successful, rather than the ones that have led to surges in cases, much suffering and loss of life.

Unfortunately, the rules that Saiki intends to implement are those of the ill-advised “safe travels” protocol that has already failed to protect the population of this state.

Below is some history and data that show why Kaua‘i needs our delegation to crush this attempt to deprive our mayor of his ability to govern properly.

Although the information I will present is specific to Kaua‘i, it might be useful to try to create a neighbor-island coalition in opposition to a bill that would tie the hands of all neighbor-island mayors.

We, on Kaua‘i, are fortunate to have suffered far less than other islands due mainly to the excellent work of both Mayor Kawakami and Dr. Janet Berreman.

They have been a team that used the best science and a large dose of ingenuity to steer Kaua‘i around the pitfalls of an evolving pandemic situation that was poorly handled at the state level.

The regulations that they have introduced, even as they found their hands tied at various junctures, have kept us safer and more open than elsewhere in the state.

For the first seven months of the pandemic, once sanitation protocols had been put into place and the population had adapted to new advice and rules to minimize contact, this island alone had many days, and even many consecutive weeks without a single case.

Kaua‘i saw a total of 59 cases during the first seven months of the pandemic, from March 13, when the first two infected travelers introduced it to the island, through the Oct. 15 “opening” of Hawai‘i to travelers on the basis of a single pre-test.

That “opening” did not, in fact, open anything, but only eliminated the safety net provided by a well-enforced quarantine.

Allowing a single pre-test to exempt travelers from quarantine flew in the face of known best-public-health practices, and has continued to do so since then.

In pushing for a protocol that he had designed, Lt. Gov. Green argued that the system would miss only one infected traveler per 1,000 arrivals.

He held to that argument even as critics pointed out that the experience elsewhere where only a single pre-test was used had resulted in the arrival of infected travelers far in excess of his expected one per thousand.

The results in Hawai‘i predictably and unfortunately followed those that had already been observed elsewhere, and our state began to receive approximately seven infected travelers per 1,000 arrivals.

In contrast with the 59 total cases of COVID-19 over those seven months, the cumulative count more than tripled to over 200 in only three months following the “opening.”

Average daily cases jumped to as many as 2.6 in some seven-day periods.

Put in other terms, Kaua‘i went from about two cases per week to about 10 cases per week, solely attributable to the unsafe and misnamed “Safe Travels” plan.

This plan seeded the virus into the population and created the conditions for community spread.

During that period, a traumatized local population collectively mourned the death of a well-known resident who may have been infected while shuttling people from the airport to their hotel.

The burden had become one that Kaua‘i could no longer tolerate.

When it became clear that the elimination of quarantine had resulted in a dangerous upward trend of cases, Mayor Kawakami attempted to introduce mitigation measures.

The response by the state was to pressure him to back down, and to block the measures, sometimes without even any public reply or justification.

Finally, when all other measures failed to gain the required approval, Kawakami announced that Kaua‘i was opting out of the state program on Dec. 2.

Members of the Kaua‘i delegation, I call upon you to support Mayor Kawakami, and take the steps necessary to block Rep. Saiki from pushing through a proposal that serves O‘ahu and not Kaua‘i.

It is an attempt to keep Mayor Kawakami from governing his island as this island needs. It is a proposal that will cause additional suffering and most likely additional deaths.

You are well aware that the death count from COVID-19 for each of the other islands continues to rise.

We have not escaped that same fate by accident, but by good governance. Kaua‘i’s measures are far safer and will best allow our case count to decline, our schools to re-open safely and our economy to revive and survive. Please block this dangerous bill.


Phyllis Albert, Ph.D., is a resident of Koloa.
Source: The Garden Island

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