Economic report outlines measurable targets to re-open Hawaii’s economy

A new brief from the Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawai’i (UHERO) outlines the next steps needed to re-open Hawaii’s economy and end the stay-at-home order issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hawaii’s House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness discussed the new information Monday morning during the committee’s 3rd meeting.

In a separate meeting on March 30, UHERO Executive Director Carl Bonham told the legislative committee that Hawaii is already in a deep recession, and it is a recession that “will surpass anything we have ever seen in our lifetimes.” UHERO estimates a loss of 140,000 jobs by the end of the 2nd quarter and Bonham predicts an unemployment rate of up to 25% in Hawaii.



The latest brief from UHERO details the next steps needed to relaunch the economy and outlines measurable targets that should be met before stay-at-home orders are relaxed.

Increased testing, comprehensive contact tracing, and isolation of exposed and infected individuals are the top priorities to reduce new infections and reduce hospitalizations, according to the brief. Once a system focusing on these three steps is successfully put into place for several weeks, the state can begin to evaluate the following measurable targets to determine if the local economy can be re-opened:

  • When the State of Hawaii reports a sustained reduction in the number of new cases for at least 14 days i.e., one incubation period;
  • hospitals in each county are safely able to treat all patients requiring hospitalization (for both COVID-19 and other serious medical conditions) without resorting to crisis standards of care and use of overflow facilities, such as arenas and convention centers, to provide hospital care to patients;
  • the State of Hawaii identifies sufficient public and private capacity to test all people with coronavirus symptoms;
  • the Hawaii State Department of Health has the capacity to conduct active monitoring of all people with coronavirus symptoms, who should remain quarantined, and to trace close contacts of virus carriers.

Bonham notes that relaxing restrictions and reopening the local economy will need to occur gradually. This might mean removing the stay-at-home order for individuals not at a high risk for serious COVID-19 illness while encouraging vulnerable individuals to remain at home. It could also mean requiring restaurants to operate at half capacity, requiring people to wear masks in public, or adopting workplace regulations to ensure continued social distancing.

“This is about re-opening the economy and you don’t want that to result in a resurgence of an outbreak. So, we need to be able to trace, isolate, and manage that over the next 6 months to a year while we’re waiting for a vaccine to be developed,” said Bonham during the meeting.

After opening the local economy, Hawaii can look to opening the tourism economy.

“Tourism from overseas will only resume when either (1) a vaccine is developed or (2) the coronavirus epidemic is brought completely under control in areas sending tourists to Hawaii or (3) rapid, same-day antigen tests become available to pre-screen potential visitors at their doctor’s office, an urgent care facility or home airport within a day of leaving for Hawaii,” reads the brief.

Bonham says waiting for a vaccine is a “worst case scenario” as a vaccine likely won’t be available for 12-18 months. Instead, Bonham says the availability of rapid antigen and antibody tests would make it possible to pre-screen tourists before they arrive in Hawaii. The UHERO brief says an antigen test capable of detecting the virus in asymptomatic carriers may be available over the next few months.

“This is going to be challenging for our whole community,” said Peter Ho, Committee Co-chair and President & CEO of Bank of Hawaii, following Bonham’s presentation. “The three pieces of this are what are the protocols to know so that we can begin restaging the economy, how can we restart the local economy, and then rebuild the visitor industry. Clearly, there is an awful lot that has to be done to make this operational.”