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Committee on COVID-19 Hears Update on Economic Outlook and Public Health Recovery

Empty beach chairs in front of a hotel on Kāʻanapali Beach. (4.13.20) Gaylord Paul Garcia for Maui Now.

The House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness on Monday discussed public health recovery and the economic outlook for Hawaiʻi.

Chris Tatum, President and CEO of the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, gave a presentation for the Tourism Subcommittee. Tatum said the members support the State’s virus mitigation efforts, agree on creating a safety protocol for communication and training, and support developing an airport screening process.

Tatum said about 70,000 people are now unemployed that had worked in the tourism industry and their health benefits are at risk. The subcommittee expects tourism will recover slowly because over a third of American travelers say they don’t expect to take a commercial trip until sometime in 2021 at the earliest.

To rebuild tourism, HTA wants to create a collaboration between the community, visitor industry, the state and counties. There also must be opportunities for residents to engage in tourism development, establish better destination management, and create new tourism products and offerings.

Tatum said it is important to identify the appropriate balance between the economic benefits of tourism and the impact on local services, natural and cultural resources, and residents’ quality of life.

Carl Bonham, Executive Director of University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization updated the state’s economic outlook for the committee.

Bonham said even through the overall economic outlook is “bleak for the near future,” there have been small gains in restaurant booking and retail sales. Bonham said their latest blog discusses Unemployment Insurance and the impacts of the economic shutdown.

The committee also discussed where the state stands in its public health risk and economic reopening schedule.

Hawaiʻi Medical Service Association President & CEO Dr. Mark Mugiishi said despite recent small increases in the number of COVID-19 cases, the dashboard matrix shows the severity and prevalence of the disease activity is very low and healthcare capacity remains high.

Mugiishi described current contact tracing and testing as “robust,” sayig the state was able to quickly identified a recent cluster of infections to limit the spread.

House Speaker Scott K. Saiki reminded the committee that communicating the risk factors and response levels clearly and simply with the public is critical for safely reopening the economy. Saiki said the health and economic “dashboard” does that and asked Alan Oshima when it will be placed on the State’s Navigator web site.

Oshima, the Governor’s Recovery and Resiliency Navigator, agreed that the dashboard is a vital informational tool and his team is working to get it posted this week

Oshima said he has been seeing members of the public not observing contamination protocols such as wearing masks and physical distancing in public. He said with recent low contamination numbers, people may have a false sense of security about catching the disease, but encouraged all to take personal responsibility to help maintain public health for families and the community at large.

The committee heard a presentation about the Hawaiʻi Green Growth Network’s recovery survey presented by the group’s Executive Director Celeste Connors and its Director of Operations and Partnerships Breanna Rose.

The survey was conducted in partnership with the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, the Chamber of Commerce, Hawaiʻi Alliance of Non-profit Organizations and other partners to compile stakeholder input on green growth projects and recovery strategies that could help stimulate the economy, create jobs, and advance resilience objectives.

The presentation detailed their Aloha+ Challenge Dashboard and “ready to go” green grown projects in clean energy, food production, natural resource management, and solid waste reduction. They also shared information about smart sustainable communities, a green workforce and green education.

James Koshiba, co-founder of Hui Aloha, gave a report for the Housing and Homelessness Subcommittee. Koshiba said that as federal loans and unemployment subsidies end, more people that rent homes are expected to become homeless. He said thousands of families that rent homes will then lose income, but their rents will remain the same.

The Subcommittee is working on ideas to help support renters through the economic decline including funding additional outreach positions to help people access and make the most out of federal benefits, helping to renegotiate leases and repayment plans, offering incentives for reduced rent, and providing low interest loans and grants.

The committee will meet again on Monday, June 29.

Original source: https://mauinow.com/2020/06/16/committee-on-covid-19-hears-update-on-economic-outlook-and-public-health-recovery/

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