COVID-19 (Covid) has clearly exposed weaknesses and inadequacies in our economy, society, health care system, and government. Though the worst of Covid may still be in front of us, we can respond to, plan for, and apply what we have already learned from Covid. We must not allow those who have suffered and even died because of Covid to have done so for nothing. We must learn, adapt, plan, and move forward from the Covid experience better, stronger, and wiser.
First and foremost, we must get a handle on Covid to protect and save lives. We must take advantage of every available tool from science and medicine including being vaccinated. We must make Covid testing, treatment, and any new vaccines free to everyone. Only through widespread, regular testing and tracing can we hope to understand the scope of the pandemic and contain it. We must be proactive and take aggressive measures to address Covid and stop mass infections and spreading. Though our current economy is tied to tourism, we must put the health and safety of the people first, relative to the economy and politics.
Disparities in health care access, from paid sick leave, environmental quality, employment market, to housing, have contributed to disproportionate rates of infection and death among communities. Government must recruit contact tracers, supported by trusted local leaders and organizations, to access those communities most at risk. In addition, State and local health departments must use culturally competent approaches to identify people at risk of contracting or spreading Covid. We are only as safe from Covid, as are our most vulnerable groups and communities.
Hawaiʻi must never be vulnerable to a global pandemic again. We must establish clear, consistent, guidelines and contingency plans at the State and county levels. We must follow the informed advice of scientists and public health experts and be prepared for future health emergencies. Government must secure and maintain an adequate stockpile of critical medical supplies, including personal protective equipment. Equipment and supply shortages can endanger the lives of people, including frontline health care workers and other essential workers. Such shortages are unacceptable and should never happen in Hawaiʻi.
We have seen how our kūpuna and those with disabilities living in group homes and other care facilities are at greater risk of contracting and dying from Covid. That people with disabilities require additional resources to protect their health, well-being, and independence during the pandemic. Government must improve oversight and expand protections for our kūpuna and residents and staff at care facilities, which have experienced some of the worst Covid outbreaks and subsequent deaths.
Hawaiʻi’s economy has been devastated by Covid. Government must create initiatives, implement programs, and facilitate an economic response commensurate to the challenge at hand. This must be done to support budget shortfalls due to declines in tax revenues, expense of Covid-related services, and rising unemployment. Government must seek and secure federal funding to make investments in areas that will support and create jobs. Government must not allow budget cuts to translate into lost jobs in education, health care, and social services, fields where we need to be adding jobs to meet the growing needs of the people.