Council asks for lockdown; Measures seek to ‘push the pause button’ amid COVID-19 crisis

  • KIM

Shut it down already, the County Council urged Gov. David Ige and Mayor Harry Kim in a pair of nonbinding resolutions approved unanimously Friday.

Council members, feeling the weight of public opinion from Big Island residents worried about the spread of coronavirus, asked the mayor to institute a 15-day lockdown of the county that includes a mandatory “shelter in place” for residents if conditions deteriorate.

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In the meantime, the council asked the mayor to enforce a modified lockdown where only allowed activities and essential businesses can operate.

Allowed activities would be tasks essential to health and safety such as obtaining medicine and food, engaging in solitary or small group outdoor activities (provided 6 feet of social distancing is maintained), caring for family members or performing work related to an essential business or government activity.

Essential business and government activity would be limited to health care, infrastructure such as constructing housing and operating public transportation and utilities, businesses providing necessities of life for shelters and poor people, childcare facilities, pharmacies, gas stations and auto repair shops, banks, trash collection, hardware stores and trades such as electricians and plumbers, laundromats, shipping and delivery companies and roles required for essential business operations, such as security and payroll.

“I’m not one to panic, I’m not one to push the button, but I think in this situation we need to push the pause button,” said Kohala Councilman Tim Richards, the sponsor of Resolution 560. “This is a different time going forward. … Our Department of Health is saying we need to get very serious very quickly.”

Richards, a large animal veterinarian, said it’s time to “separate from the herd,” to keep everyone safe.

During two hours of back-and-forth with the mayor, the council expressed the collective concerns of their constituents. More than 200 people submitted written testimony under emergency rules that kept the public out of the three council rooms where members were split up in order to maintain the rule of no more than 10 people in one place.

“Every hour counts,” said Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter. “Every hour, every minute, every second that we don’t act, we are killing our people.”

Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas waved a stack of testimony she had printed out. She said constituents were “begging, complaining, demanding,” and critical of the mayor’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some, she said, called for Kim’s removal from office.

“People feel this is a tragic demonstration of weak leadership. … I’m afraid that the arrogance and incompetence will be unfortunate if we don’t listen and learn,” Villegas said. “I’m sad for that; I’m sad for what this will do for our community. … This will leave a tragic stain on your legacy of mayor.”

Kim maintained that the county has been ahead of the rest of the state sanitizing public areas and helping businesses that choose to stay open create procedures to protect the public while maintaining services. Kim signed an emergency proclamation calling for actions even before the state and other counties did and he initiated his task force and procedures ahead of everyone else.

All 11 of the Big Island’s legislators signed a letter urging Kim to implement a lockdown and shelter in place immediately.

“This looks like a complete lockdown,” Kim said about the resolution. “This is a lockdown for the people of Hawaii Island. I will have to look at the ramifications.”

Kim asked how a total lockdown would be enforced and how people would be screened for whether they should be out and about or not.

Kim announced the closure of all county beach and shoreline parks, trails and shoreline access starting today. All camping and pavilion use permits were canceled. He told the council he didn’t want to have to close beaches, but he had to because county beaches were being overwhelmed after the state closed the state beaches earlier this week.

“We thought it was good for the health,” Kim said about leaving beaches open. “To make that decision off the cuff, off the hip, is wrong, and we didn’t do that.”

Resolution 559, sponsored by Council Chairman Aaron Chung, tackled issues under state control. It urges Ige to mandate “strict and uniform lockdown measures” throughout the state. Allowing counties to create their own rules makes a collaborative effort to reduce the spread of the virus “only be as effective as the least stringent measures taken by a county,” the resolution says.

Chung pointed to Resolution 560 as more detailed and directed more at the county government than his own.

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“This asks you to do something. … We ask you to consider it,” Chung told the mayor. “You’re either going to change your directives completely or in part. All we can do right now is urge you and our fallback is, the governor can do it as well.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.