Whether it was because of Gov. David Ige’s order to lock down the state or simply due to inclement weather, few people were out and about on the first day of the state’s five-week stay-at-home order.
Throughout Hilo, places typically crowded became eerily empty, with nonessential businesses shuttered and county and state parks technically closed to the public in an effort to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
A handful of people braved the weather and the governor’s order to spend time outside. Ninole resident Thyra Franchak strolled through a largely deserted Lili‘uokalani Gardens on Wednesday in Hilo with her children.
“We have a yard for the kids to run around in, but this is the first time we’ve gone out since the Ninole parks closed last week,” Franchak said.
Franchak added that she was unsure whether Lili‘uokalani Gardens was closed to the public — as a county park, it is, although there was no signage at the park Wednesday to warn visitors away. Only pylons blocking parking lots around the park indicated something was amiss.
Other popular parks were more clearly closed. Beach parks along Kalanianaole Avenue were empty of guests, with gates firmly blocking access, while caution tape and pylons blocked access to Rainbow Falls.
Hawaiian Paradise Park resident Linda Robb was one of the only people seen at the Hilo Bayfront Beach Park on Wednesday.
“We’re not doing the sprints anymore, I guess, but I’m still training,” Robb said, referring to the Moku O Hawaii canoe regatta championships that were to be hosted in August in Hilo before being canceled Tuesday. “I’m still coming out here pretty much every day … the only problem I have is that now there’s no place to change clothes.”
Robb said she thought it was a “good sign” that parks were so deserted Wednesday, adding that she thinks it indicates people are taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously.
“I’m being cautious,” Robb said. “I have to be; my husband has his share of health issues. … But I keep a bleach solution in my car, and I make sure I keep things sanitized. It doesn’t take long to do that, either.”
If people avoided going outside because of the weather, they were short on indoor gathering spaces, as well. Prince Kuhio Plaza shut down Wednesday, closing off its interior to the public.
Daniel Kea, general manager of Hilo mall, said some interior-facing businesses remain open and can be accessed by calling a phone number posted on the mall’s entrances.
“For now, in order to follow social distancing guidelines, we thought it would be best to make access by escort only,” Kea said.
Kea said he thinks the mall will remain closed until April 30, when Ige’s order is scheduled to end.
While Kea thinks the mall itself can withstand such a lengthy closure, he remains concerned for smaller businesses within the shopping center that might not be as fortunate.
With incoming travelers to be quarantined for 14 days upon arrival to Hawaii beginning today, even transit hubs such as Hilo International Airport were like ghost towns Wednesday.
One couple, Brendan McQuillan and Ashley Garnett, arrived at the airport Wednesday, having cut short a yearlong stay in Australia to return home to Papaikou.
“We could have extended our visas and just tried to wait it out,” McQuillan said. “But we both got laid off from our jobs, and it seemed like it would have been really hard to find another one if we stayed.”
Garnett said they only made the decision to leave Australia five days prior and departed on one of the last flights to America.
“We had some roommates from the U.K. and they decided they’d try to stick it out,” McQuillan said.
Meanwhile, 15-year-old Hania Mesa said he decided to leave Oahu on Tuesday in order to stay with family on the Big Island.
“I’m just gonna stay here until it’s all over,” Mesa said. “I think everything’s going to go crazy.”
There was at least one place still attracting crowds Wednesday afternoon, however: Scores of people gravitated to Honoli‘i Beach Park north of Hilo to surf and watch others ride the swells.
“I’m just looking at what’s in front of me,” one surfer said. “I don’t see anything wrong right now. Nature’s the best treatment for everyone. I’m not going to stay in, staring at my phone.”
Although all beach parks will remain closed until at least April 30, lifeguards will remain on duty for standard hours, said assistant Fire Chief Darwin Okinaka.
“People do still go to the water, so we’re still going to try to keep them safe,” Okinaka said.
Email Michael Brestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.