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Hand sanitizer and instructions greet visitors to the county Human Resources Department on Wednesday in Hilo.
The Department of Public Works is one office where the doors are propped open so people don’t have to touch them. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)
Office doors are propped open, as a visitor looks for an office in Aupuni Center in Hilo on Wednesday. (Photos by Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)
Office doors are propped open and the buildings reek of bleach and disinfectant. But coronavirus or no, Hawaii County is open for business and Mayor Harry Kim intends to keep it that way.
Emergency staff meetings were held all over the county Wednesday morning to reinforce that message to county employees after Gov. David Ige late Tuesday sent out a directive sending “nonessential” state employees home for 15 days with pay.
County workers will continue to work their regular jobs, in addition to being part of task forces. One such task force is called “bug busters,” composed of Public Works and Parks and Recreation staff dedicated to keeping environs clean.
Sending employees home is just one of the recommendations Ige made in his Tuesday directive. Others ask churches, entertainment, visitor attractions and bars to close, restaurants to allow only takeout and delivery orders and everyone to avoid discretionary travel.
But Kim is choosing a different path. In a 9 p.m. Tuesday announcement after Ige’s directive, Kim went on the air to issue his own civil defense message to clarify.
“The County of Hawaii will maintain all of its services and operators as normal. All county employees are to report to work as scheduled,” Kim’s message said. “The state’s press conference release on closures for restaurants, bars and places of worship acted as a guide for all counties. Within this county, restaurants, bars and places of worship may make their own decision as to open or close.”
If they do stay open, Kim added, the facilities are expected to identify measures they are taking to address cleanliness and block spread of coronavirus. The county is available to help them do that, he said.
“I told the governor how different Hawaii County is,” Kim told West Hawaii Today on Wednesday, adding there are 8,000 visitors on the island on any given day and most are spread around in rural areas or at isolated hotels.
“I was crossing my fingers that nobody would close but take the other option. My responsibility is not only the people of this island but the visitors of this island,” Kim said. “There are not enough places for people to eat. We don’t need them compounding the rush to stores. Eight thousand people need three meals a day.”
Kim acknowledges his crisis management tack isn’t popular with everyone.
“I’m really getting the flak on emails and calls,” Kim said, “but it’s a hard decision made on what is best for this island.”
The county is, however, abiding by a state edict that employees who have traveled to the mainland isolate themselves for 14 days before coming back to work. In addition, employee interisland travel is now restricted, Human Resources Director Bill Brilhante said.
“The mayor’s directive is we’re going to conduct business as usual, but we’re also going to take every precautionary step,” Brilhante said. “We’re just trying to be hyper-vigilant and lead by example. It’s not just a county departmental problem; it’s a community problem. We’re all in this together.”
Brilhante said the number of employees on leave Wednesday was roughly the same as a month ago.
So far, the self-imposed isolation after traveling hasn’t hampered law enforcement, officials said.
“We’re making adjustments as necessary, although it may create overtime in the future,” said Maj. Samuel Jelsma. “Our intent is to maintain services as they have been.”
County Prosecutor Mitch Roth said investigators are still investigating criminal cases and that work won’t stop.
“This is a serious matter and it’s going to take all of us together to get out of this as a safe and healthy community,” Roth said. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to save lives.”
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