Businesses seek clear path and protocols for reopening, as clock ticks on companies’ survival

Coronavirus

While some sectors of the economy are being allowed to reopen, many businesses say they’re being left behind. Always Investigating found out there may soon be a one-stop resource online where everyone can find safety protocols and how to get approved to get back to business. But meanwhile many in sectors not addressed yet in re-opening proclamations say they feel left in the dark and left out, along with the tens of thousands they employ.

Business owners and workers are happy to see some sectors start to get the green light to re-open, but the approval process has some baffled.

“The narrative safe vs. unsafe, not essential vs. nonessential…every business is essential,” says Steve Haumschild, who owns several local companies including a brewery, retail, delivery, expeditions and more. “It’s supporting a family and a small network within their community.”

KHON2 found the state does not yet have a system to tell all businesses what they would have to do to qualify for reopening, nor any central place for them to submit self-initiated safety plans for review.

“I’ve been advocating as hard as we can,” Haumschild said, “just to have a path forward on not necessarily the day that we need to start, but what actions we can take as business owners within our respective industries to really say, ‘OK great, we have a plan in place’ for when that day comes.”

KHON2 asked the offices of the governor, the recovery navigator, Department of Health, and HiEMA what organizations should do to get set on a pathway toward reopening, along with protocols, and we found a central structure is not yet set up.

The governor on Monday told us the recovery navigator would handle it, stating: “We actually instituted, and Alan Oshima as the navigator for our Hawaii economic recovery has asked all businesses and all industries to come forward to talk about what their business or what their industry would look like in their post-COVID-19 era.”

The Recovery Navigator’s representative told us the office is not presently handling reopening protocol intake nor issuance, so we asked the governor for clarification, and on Tuesday the governor said it was a combination of local, federal and trade association stakeholders deciding.

“We are working and looking at the CDC guidelines,” Gov. David Ige said Tuesday, “and the Department of Health is in contact with the federal agencies. We have had meetings and discussions with the local representatives of agencies like the National Restaurant Association and others. There have been many guidance documents issued. We continue to work with all of the federal, county, state agencies to find the appropriate guidance and distribute it to all of the members in our community.”

We asked for more specifics and were told by the Hawaii COVID-19 Joint Information Center: “At this moment there is not a centralized place for businesses/industry to view safety protocols for reopening. Teams of individuals from both the private and public sectors are working to identify best practices and it’s expected that soon there will be a central website for addressing these issues; similar to the Hawaii COVID-19 exemption site…The system able to handle business questions and protocols has not been established. It’s expected that the industry-specific protocols will cover all sizes of related industries or businesses.”

As for the governor’s reference to trade associations having a seat at his current table, the state Hawaii COVID-19 Joint Information Center clarified: “The industries that can re-open now are identified in the latest supplemental proclamation and were selected first, based on healthcare risk guidelines from the CDC- from low to medium, not driven by trade groups or lobbyists.”

The clock is ticking. Many businessowners took on huge emergency loans and personal debt to keep their companies afloat and try to pay people, but going on two months of forced closure with no end and no revenue in sight, those safety nets are going to run out within days and weeks.

“Now that we’re approaching going on month 2 of this, the fact it’s not in place is really scary,” Haumschild said of the need for a streamlined re-opening resource. “There are groups of small businesspeople right now just terrified on what to do next or to shut down, and it’s going to be a very tough few months for all of us.”

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