As Hawaii continues to flatten the curve of COVID-19, many are wondering what the next steps are to get the economy back open and running. 

Hawaii’s 16 billion dollar tourism economy is on hold, with visitors to the state averaging just over 100 arrivals per day, down from nearly 30,000 per day in 2019.

Despite the need to get the economy back up and running as soon as possible, pandemic response expert and retired Marine Reserve Lt. Col. Hal Kempfer warns that a second wave could decimate the industry.

“We need to be really smart and we need to be very comprehensive when we reopen,” Kempfer said,

“What we don’t want to do is reopen too quickly and we have another massive outbreak as bad or worse than what we had before because then we have to shut down. I’m gonna tell you the catastrophic effect that will have will be huge.”

Kempfer worked in Hawaii emergency operations coordinating responses to pandemics and biothreats, where he says the state has always been ahead of the curve. 

“I can tell you going back more than at least a couple of decades the Department of Defense has looked at this closely. Hawaiian Civil Defense has looked at this closely. FEMA has looked at this closely, that if there is going to be a pandemic it will probably stem from Asia and probably hit the shores of the United States in the Pacific before anywhere else.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has played out eerily similar to what Kempfer saw in simulations. In order to move forward once travel quarantines are lifted, Kempfer says that the playbook will need to continue to be followed, beginning with testing. 

“There’s a couple of FDA serology tests pending approval that are very good,” Kempfer said.

“I know one is about 98 percent accurate which is pretty darn good and it can tell you within 5-10 minutes from literally poking your finger, putting it in blood. Taking it in the little test kit thing. It can tell you very quickly if you have it, don’t have it, or ever had it.”

For crowded spaces like airports or sports arenas, surveillance would be adopted.

“There’s very advanced technology from the military defense side of the house where they can stand off, put sensors up and look down at crowds to see who’s got an illness-based fever vs an activity-based fever,” Kempfer said.

Contact tracing has become one of the new phrases added to American lexicon over the pandemic. Apple and Google announced last week a partnership to use phone location to help notify people if they have come into contact with a person COVID-19 positive. 

“When you get an ad on your phone you’re like how did they know you’re getting something at Burger King? They were tracking where you were and they saw you went to Burger King more than McDonalds or someplace else,” Kempfer said.

“Same commercial application of cell phone technology is to try to track people and see where they’ve been. In that I can look at proximity of where someone’s been and immediately quickly figure out in these last three weeks these are all the places you’ve been these are all of the people you’ve been in contact with. We can reverse engineer that all of those people get a text and a phone call telling them, ‘Hey you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 you need to get a test right away.'”

Kempfer says that masks would still be essential to keep the spread, theorizing that advertising space could be used to make them free to tourists. 

Finally, disinfecting surfaces and common areas would use new technology. Hawaii has already began something similar with the use of drones to alert beachgoers that sitting on the shore isn’t allowed during the stay-at-home order.

“Having a small squadron of drones flying down Waikiki disinfecting Waikiki. Disinfecting the sidewalks the parks everywhere kids would be around,” Kempfer said.