(BIVN) – With additional restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on O‘ahu in the works, business associations had the chance to express their concerns during an online meeting with state lawmakers on Monday.
During the Hawaiʻi State House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness meeting, Wendy Laros of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce said that in West Hawaiʻi, “we’ve got businesses that… have been in our community for decades, that are completely reliant on tourism and tourists for their customer base and are looking to close forever,” she said. “There is a real sense of urgency.”
Although Hawaiʻi island has seen low coronavirus case counts compared to Oʻahu, “what’s going on on Oʻahu is really affecting all of us, as well,” Laros said.
On Monday afternoon, the State of Hawaiʻi reported that Governor David Ige and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell met at length and “agreed that additional targeted restrictions will be needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on O‘ahu. We anticipate an announcement, with details, this week.”
Laros said she really likes the idea about selective restrictions, and agreed with many on the committee that it’s very important “to know where the cases are, where the clusters are.”
Laros also expressed concerns about restrictions on travel.
“We also have members in the business community that are really disappointed that we can’t fly from our islands to the other neighbor islands, because we were actually depending on it,” Laros said. “Some of our tourism companies were actually seeing kamaʻaina tourists from other islands, and so that just got shut down.”
“Many of the things that we did wrong during the last shutdown was to not
prepare effectively for the reopening,” said Carl Bonham, executive director of the University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization. “Many of the things that we did wrong during the last shutdown was to not prepare effectively for the reopening, whether it was the public health… standing up the the necessary contact tracing, and other messaging for the public health side. But we also never completed a plan for reopening tourism, and you know, when we go to a more restrictive model on Oʻahu, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t complete a plan for reopening tourism to the neighbor islands.”
“The concern over not enough tests available, I think, shouldn’t stop us from considering that possibility for those direct flights to the neighbor islands,” Bonham said, “and we’re not going to see a huge number of visitors when we begin to reopen. It’s really an opportune time to consider this, and to finish the plan and start to make it happen on the neighbor islands that want to reopen.”
Mark Perriello, the president & CEO of the Kauaʻi Chamber of Commerce, said “we need benchmarks moving forward so that businesses aren’t playing a guessing game about whether we’re going to open or not open, or stay open or close in a week, or what have you. It would be good to have some sort of indicator of when decisions are going to be made, rather than – you know – groups coming together and making decisions and not being transparent.”
Perriello added that “as much as we talk about the health and well-being of our community, we don’t really talk about the health and well-being of our businesses as much, or at least it seems not as much.”
“A lot of our businesses are in triage,” Perriello said, “and if you’re going to close down Oʻahu again, you better be right there with the plans about how those businesses are going to stay afloat during that time, right? Because what happens, I think, is that we close down businesses and we think we’re closing everything down but the businesses still need to pay their mortgage, they still need to pay their lease, they still need to pay insurances, right? And so what ends up happening is they have a dwindling cash flow, right down to the point where they close permanently. And so it’s really important, I think, for the state to step up and really come up with some solutions. So that maybe they don’t have to pay rent, maybe they don’t have to pay their mortgage. So that when the businesses are potentially shut down again, they aren’t slowly bleeding their finances away during the time that they’re closed.”
“To shut down the entire state again, businesses are gonna die,” warned Tina Yamaki, the president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaiʻi. “We’ve had all of this time to figure out a plan to open tourism. Why haven’t we figured it out, yet? It’s been going on since March. A lot of businesses, we’re just frustrated because you’re playing now with people’s lives. Because now, one more month, that means I can’t afford it. I’m closing.”
Yamaki said they have heard of people who “are selling their homes because they can’t afford it anymore. They’re looking to move in with relatives. The rentals that they have, they can’t afford the rent right now. And when that ends again, are they going to get evicted, they don’t have money to have another three-months down payment of rent or whatever it is, you know. I think we need to step up and really look at businesses. Yes, we need to also help the unemployed, but businesses right now we are suffering a lot of it.”