Hawaii is almost everyone’s paradise. When the novel coronavirus hit the island paradise, local leaders had to move quickly. Its response would mean closing its borders and shutting the valve on its economic lifeline: Tourism.
Yet, Mayor Kirk Caldwell of Honolulu knew he did not have a choice. He looked at the numbers coming from the mainland and some of the early infection rates on the island. Honolulu had to reduce community spread. And he depended on his constituents to help him do so.
And while Honolulu retains a low rate of infection, the island is being cautious with its reopening plans. Restaurants and some other businesses have been allowed to open under social distancing guidelines. The state is still warning against large gatherings of more than 10 people and is encouraging residents to wear a mask when they go out.
Q&A With Mayor Caldwell
What personal barriers have you faced in responding to COVID-19 in your community and how have you overcome them?
With the advent of COVID -19, possibly the most difficult barrier has been making sure to take quick action, while still effectively communicating those actions to the community. We took the decisive step of implementing a Stay at Home Order on March 22, being the first county in Hawaii to implement such an order. With that order in place, we then developed a strategy to keep the public informed of a new and constantly changing reality, through bi-weekly briefings, social media posts, and collaboration with community and media partners. This new landscape has changed how we communicate with the public as well as the private sector, and will inform those practices well into the future.
We immediately set up a city hotline and call center, as well as a COVID-19 response website at oneoahu.org. The call center continues to get calls on permitted activities under the order, enforcement, and to request information on how to receive assistance. The website has received over 100,000 views, with close to 80,000 unique visitors.
What role has technology played in keeping your city up and running – give an example, if possible?
Once social distancing measures were put into place, our information technology team was able to set up hundreds of our essential employees with telework capability. We also implemented policies against holding large-in person meetings and encouraged moving to various digital platforms. In addition to changing the way the City does business on a personnel level, our Department of Emergency Management built a digital dashboard to track city supplies of PPE, travelers entering our State, along with many other important metrics that have become essential in our understanding of how to best respond to this crisis.
How are you, as a mayor, rethinking public-private partnerships to change policy around serving the needs of your residents?
We realize in this time that everyone must come to the table if we plan to deal with this ever-evolving crisis. On Friday, April 24, we announced an innovative public-private partnership to provide food assistance to recently unemployed individuals. The City & County of Honolulu matched a $1 million donation from the Hawai‘i Resilience Fund of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation (HCF) for COVID-19 relief efforts.
Four food partners – Sysco Hawaii; Hawaii Foodservice Alliance; Hawai‘i Ranchers Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i Island, Maui and O‘ahu; and Hawaii Farm Bureau– agreed to provide high-quality food products for an estimated 4,000 households at each distribution site. Several community partners, including Hawai‘i Counts 2020 Census, Child & Family Service, and Domestic Violence Action Center, also agreed to be on hand to provide valuable information to recipients.
As part of this partnership, The Royal Hawaiian Band, under the direction of Clarke Bright, took on the role of assisting Hawaii Foodbank with the distributions. The band, which, in a normal year, performs over 350 concerts, has assisted in staffing the city’s call center and performing other tasks during the pandemic. Their role includes engaging in transporting, packing, and distributing the food to families in need.
We partnered with Premier Medical Group Hawaii to conduct mass testing at city park locations. As testing and contact tracing remains the key to opening up the city, we are doing what we can to help partners do more testing especially for those who are not able to get tested through their own physicians.
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