COVID-19 Recovery Plans in the Works—Which Hawai‘i Businesses May Open First?

Head of the economic recovery effort says, “we cannot slow roll this,” but don’t expect life to return to normal anytime soon.
Alan Oshima
Photo: Courtesy of Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc.

With the number of cases falling into single digits for the first time in weeks—four today with no new cases on Oʻahu for the first time since testing began—a good chunk of Monday’s daily state COVID-19 press conference was focused on when Hawaiʻi will begin reopening. And while the state says it will be moving quickly, there are a lot of steps ahead.

 

Gov. David Ige still points to the fact that Hawaiʻi has not seen decreasing cases for 14 days—a cluster of cases at Big Island McDonald’s likely drove the daily number to 21 over the weekend—as a reason why the state can’t enter phase one of the president’s reopening process. In fact, there is talk of possibly continuing stay-home orders past April 30. So, when restrictions ease, who will be allowed to open first?

 

Gov. Ige says that the state is looking at health care as the first step, allowing elective procedures that were put on hold to continue in places well equipped to deal with health issues. “We can control it,” Ige says. “We can let it happen and we can stop it if we need to.”

 

The man put in charge of the recovery plan, Hawaiʻi Economic and Community Recovery and Resiliency Navigator Alan Oshima, went through some of the guidelines presented to the governor and lawmakers. Oshima, former CEO of Hawaiian Electric, says he has already reached out to the various chambers of commerce to see what businesses would need to reopen, including changes for additional social distancing and safety measures in the new normal. As for a full return to business, that is not likely anytime soon. Instead, every leader has pointed to a gradual reopening. The plan outlined on recoverynavigator.hawaii.gov includes workshops, town hall meetings, surveys and written responses toward not just reopening the economy, but to create a less vulnerable one for the future. A lofty goal, but one that doesn’t speak to speed.

 

On the bright side, the state says more than 11,000 small-business owners will receive more than $2.2 billion in forgivable federal loans, meaning money used to pay workers and expenses including mortgage and utilities are forgiven as long as businesses maintain their employees without cutting salaries. Oshima says there are also funds to help agriculture and other sectors, but the state is waiting for the federal guidelines for using the money.