My Turn: Time to reassess our dependence on unsustainable tourism

We did it! We succeeded when the rest of our country could not and were, for a moment in time, COVID-19 free. We justifiably rewarded ourselves over the last few weeks, with dropping our guard (and our masks) and socializing with those we love.

Many of the contiguous 48 states are experiencing surges and mask wearing and social distancing has become a political decision when it should be a medical one. Now in a blinking of an eye we have new active cases popping up on all our islands, in part, due to our lack of monitoring those under quarantine including residents returning from abroad. One of my friends who came home from a mainland vacation told me that no one has contacted him since his return several days ago to ensure he is staying at home as the form he filed out at the airport said he would.

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COVID-19 spreads by movement of infected people. Unlike my friend who is staying at home, tourists don’t want to be quarantined on their vacation. They come here to “see” Hawaii. One day they go to Hawi and walk in all the stores and restaurants, the next to Waimea and do the same, then off to Hilo to see the Volcano, then down to the City of Refuge and South Kona … all the while swimming at our beaches and shopping in our farmers and super markets.

After Aug. 1, to avoid quarantine they must show proof of testing negative. Unfortunately, PCR based tests are only 80% accurate at best. It misses one out of five cases. That’s like playing Russian roulette with five bullets.

For the sake of the Kupuna, it seems logical to open our schools three weeks rather than three days later, especially considering the numerous multigenerational households on our islands coupled with our limited capacity to respond to a surge medically.

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Along with helping our struggling economy, our local and state governments need to work together to devise systems that allow those who are not infected to travel freely, while at the same time effectively monitoring those under quarantine. Our collective goal should not be to try to replicate the unsustainable number of tourists that were coming at the beginning of the year. We have all experienced what a treat it was to have our island back to ourselves. We should take this time to reassess our priorities and to slowly relinquish our dependency on the tourist economy with diversity based on our abundant natural resources.

Ric Rocker is a resident of Waimea.