The people of Hawaii Island are familiar with disasters.
Who can forget the 2018 eruption of Kilaeua Volcano? Lava swallowed as many as 700 homes.
Now, two years later, Mayor Harry Kim faces another dilemma: how to keep the 200,000 residents in the county safe during a pandemic.
“Records will show the island of Hawaii was the first to declare a state of emergency. I’ve said it a thousand times. I’d rather people criticize me for overreacting, than criticize me for “under reacting,” said Kim.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, Kim says he put crews to work early on in the pandemic.
“What do we have today no one else has? We have teams going out 7 days a week, disinfecting public areas and private areas.”
He adds his team drew inspiration from Norwegian Cruise Lines.
“Fogging. We bought that equipment. We fog whatever is necessary, a light mist spray.”
As of June 23, state health officials have reported 85 cases of COVID-19 on Hawaii Island.
The mayor says his first priority is keeping residents safe, which made a recent incident involving 21 visitors frustrating.
“The disrespect of people like that. It doesn’t take 21 people (to infect residents). It only takes 1!”
The visitors were arrested and charged for violating the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine. Kim says they were caught leaving their hotels despite the quarantine, visiting public beaches and exploring towns.
To keep the county COVID-free, Kim acknowledged his decisions have consequences.
Local businesses are suffering.
Beloved Hilo restaurant Ken’s Pancake House recently re-opened after being shut down for 2 months to curb the virus.
“Going forward, can we survive this way in the long term, just being 50 percent open?” said General Manager Debbie Ching Waiava.
She fears the restaurant, which has been around since 1971, may have to shut down.
“It’s the toughest challenge since I’ve been here,” she admitted.
Waiava has managed Ken’s Pancake House since 1990. She recently fired multiple employees, because she could no longer afford to keep them on payroll.
“Was it a good trade-off of people losing their jobs? I tell them, obviously not. But it was a necessary trade-off. Those decisions are not made lightly. We know the consequences of our action. If you don’t, you’re not thinking much about it. What are the consequence of each move? When you shut off your lifeline, the tourism industry. We knew what the consequences were. As well as the quarantine order. As long as you know why you made the decision, you feel okay with it,” said Kim.
He adds, “Where do we go from here? It’s part of our economic responsibility. Every discussion now is how do we allow tourism to the island of Hawaii, and not jeopardize the lives of the people of Hawaii. Which is our number one priority. “