A year after the stay-at-home order was put in to effect to alleviate the spread of COVID-19 in Hawaii, life looks much different for many people in Hilo.
Last Thursday marked the anniversary of the first day of Hawaii’s lockdown to fight the spread of the virus.
Gov. David Ige on March 22, 2020, signed an emergency proclamation that ordered residents statewide to stay at home through April 30. The order, later extended to May 31, required residents to stay at home, leaving only for essential activities or to engage in essential business.
The stay-at-home order forced many public institutions and businesses to close or operate on a much smaller scale for months, which led to widespread unemployment.
The lockdown and various restrictions also forced many to find ways to cope with the psychological toll from the prolonged pandemic.
Flexibility through frustrations
Musician Jeff Funada, 67, has been out of work for a year. While he normally played guitar for guests at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel and the Hilton Waikoloa Village, he hasn’t been able to book those gigs since the onset of the stay-at-home order.
“This has taken a toll on so many musicians that are used to playing gigs every week,” Funada said. “Things have been looking up, but it was difficult when everything shut down.”
After taking a break from playing for a few weeks, Funada picked up his guitar again to find that he was severely out of practice.
“I fell out of it, and I had to recommit, so I started playing for an hour or two every day,” Funada said. “I started playing at the park, and it’s become a blessing for me.”
Funada enjoys playing at Liliuokalani Gardens for himself as well as the people passing by.
“It’s been great. I love meeting people who are just living their lives, walking their dogs or making art,” Funada said.
While Funada hasn’t made plans to get a vaccine, he will be taking his 93-year old mother to get vaccinated this week.
Across Liliuokalani Gardens, David Harris and Jack Musick talked together after an outdoor yoga class.
Harris, 68, misses the classes and communities he was part of before the beginning of the stay-at-home order, but has been able to adapt and find things to keep himself busy.
“It’s been hard to be stuck at home, but I’m lucky to have an orchard to take care of and play around in,” Harris said. “I do miss being around a community of people through the Kamana Senior Center.”
Musick, 43, has been teaching outdoor yoga every Tuesday for a few weeks now and has grown weary of the constant proclamations, laws and rules that have been changing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m worried that these community organizations I’m part of won’t survive or recover from this forced control,” Musick said. “It’s amazing that thousands of people can shop in the same store, but people still can’t bury their loved ones, get married or celebrate birthdays.”
Musick has been frustrated with the mask mandate and has been feeling deprived of human interaction in the community.
“We’ve all been forced to stop doing all the things that make us human,” Musick said. “I still can’t smile at people, which is my language, it’s how I communicate.”
Harris has been surprised by some of the activities he’s started to miss through the year of isolation.
“My wife used to get tickets for all the (Hawaii) Concert Society shows, which I enjoyed, but I didn’t always want to go,” Harris said. “Now that they’ve been shut down for a year, holy cow I miss it a ton.”
Harris and Musick are ready for Hilo to feel like Hilo again and are hoping events such festivals can resume this year.
College during COVID-19
Students at the University of Hawaii at Hilo were forced to adapt to a completely new situation when they were on spring break in 2020. When the state implemented the stay-at-home order, some students had to finish their semesters back home or in Hilo fully online.
“It felt like I was back in high school,” sophomore Aidia Nyman said. “It was really weird to have to finish up my freshman year of college at home.”
Nyman, 19, and Lauren Blue, 20, went back to Washington to visit family over spring break last year and did not come back to Hilo until mid-August.
“We still had to take all online classes, except for labs, when we came back last semester,” Blue said. “I don’t learn well online and would much rather have classes in-person.”
Nyman and Blue heard that the university might begin incorporating more in-person classes over the summer.
“I’m hoping to have more in-person classes next semester, but I do think I’ve gotten a lot more socially awkward,” Blue joked.
Terra Cinnamon, 19, moved to Hilo from Japan in January and is a freshman at Hawaii Community College this year.
While she had originally applied to the Intensive English Program at Hawaii Community College for last semester, Cinnamon decided she did not want to spend money to only take online classes.
“I was in Japan for a full semester and then decided to come to Hawaii for the spring,” Cinnamon said. “It’s been hard to make friends since there aren’t in-person classes, and there are restrictions.”
Cinnamon is studying anthropology at HCC and is hoping to transfer to UH-Hilo at some point.
“I lived in the countryside, so things are pretty similar here as they were in Japan,” Cinnamon said. “I hope things start to get better and I can begin to meet more people.”
Sixty-hour work weeks
Jenn Aguiar has met many people while working as an administrative service officer for Hilo Medical Center and has been constantly working to help people since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My family was fortunate to all be essential workers during the stay-at-home order,” Aguiar said. “It’s been hard for my 13-year old though since he’s has had to fend for himself often.”
Aguiar currently works at HMC’s vaccination hub at The Arc of Hilo, where she help patients check in and schedule second shots. She has been part of the hospital’s COVID-19 effort throughout the pandemic.
“There is always something new we’ve had to learn about and deal with through this time,” Aguiar said. “It started with setting up the COVID-19 unit, and now here we are working at the vaccination hub and hoping that this will be our saving grace.”
Aguiar works 60 hours a week and has not been able to take a break this year.
“My brother just had a baby, and I haven’t been able to go to Oregon to meet my nephew,” Aguiar said. “My spouse does help me through this time tremendously and really encourages me when I’m having a hard day.”
The lack of vacation time for health care workers has become difficult as the pandemic drags on. Robin Sandlin is an ER nurse and has been in the thick of COVID-19 through the year.
“I think working becomes harder when you haven’t been able to take a break,” Sandlin said. “But as health care workers, we are used to accepting things and finding ways to make things easier on ourselves.”
Throughout the pandemic, Sandlin was used to seeing eight to 10 COVID-19 cases every day while working on the weekends. On Tuesday, he got the second round of vaccine and is happy to see more people get vaccinated.
“Things are looking better in the ER, and luckily we’ve been able to keep our numbers low in Hawaii County,” Sandlin said. “Seeing is believing, and it’s great to see this vaccination effort.”
Sandlin is married to an ICU nurse, and they recently had a daughter in February. Sandlin’s parents traveled from Virginia to help with the newborn, and they also have a babysitter that helps watch the baby once a week.
“We are able to spend two days together, and sometimes it’s hard, but we work together and understand what we’re both going through,” Sandlin said. “It’s important to have a spouse that’s understanding, and we’re lucky to go through this together.”
Jaime Tangonan, 28, recently started coordinating vaccination efforts at The Arc of Hilo when she moved back home after four years away.
Tangonan graduated from the UH-Hilo College of Pharmacy in 2017 and spent time working around the mainland and eventually at Maui Memorial Medical Center. She was not able to see her family until she moved back a couple months ago.
“I had the choice to come back home, and I’m so glad I could do that,” Tangonan said. “My goal in my life was to take care of my community, and being able to actually do that is so important to me.”
While many people are deciding to opt out of vaccinations, many kupuna are ready to get the vaccine and see some return to normalcy.
“So many kupuna have told me that they haven’t gone out for the entire year,” Eleanor Day said. “That’s why many people are excited and prepared to get the vaccine.”
Day, 70, is a nurse and has had an active role with Hilo Medical Center throughout the pandemic. She currently is vaccinating about 90 people a day at The Arc of Hilo.
“We can’t please everyone, but it’s fun being able to talk with so many people in community,” Day said. “Hearing anything positive always makes my job easier.
“After all this is over, I’m probably going to retire,” Day joked.
Email Kelsey Walling at email@example.com