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Walking a tightrope

Reopening tourism must feel like walking a tightrope to state and county leaders.

Their bid to restart Hawaii’s economic engine balances on the health of its residents and visitors. The void the governor and mayors find themselves inching across is home to all sorts of challenges and potential negative outcomes, including COVID-19 surges, overfilled hospitals and freezer truck morgues.

They may be leading the way, but we’re all in on the balancing act.

Last weekend a small vehicle demonstration held at Kahului Airport called for stricter virus prevention measures for air travelers. A four-point plan proposed by the protestors included mandatory post-arrival tests, use of a smartphone contact tracing app, formation of a Maui pandemic task force and coronavirus education.

On the opposite side of the coin, though infection rates and deaths have been increasing dramatically across America and in countries worldwide, efforts to ramp up lockdowns and closures are being met with protests in the streets. Businesses are fighting to survive. The public is growing weary of taking precautions.

Amid all the consternation, it was refreshing to meet a trio of visitors from Spokane, Washington this week. With their masks briefly removed to enjoy cups of shave ice, they described the precautions they took before flying here, including quarantining prior to their trip. Though they witnessed fellow visitors not social distancing or following other guidelines, they were doing their best to comply.

“We didn’t want to affect the ecosystem here,” said Dustin Sampson while seated outside Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice in Kihei. “We were very diligent.”

Sampson, his mom Toni Sampson and Autum Whitworth said they booked their flights and accommodations before the pandemic. Through a tough year that saw all three of them lose their jobs due to the economic downturn, they held out hope they could still visit Maui. Dustin said he regularly went online to check the situation here and vowed to come only if the island was receptive to guests.

When the stars looked like they might align, they rebooked flights that had been canceled. One of the rebooked flights was canceled, so they booked again. Since they couldn’t get direct connections, they took roundabout routes.

Dustin said after getting through some challenges in 2019, he was pleased to be able to visit Maui for his 36th birthday. While here they took a boat to Molokini, drove to Kipahulu and ate lots of shave ice.

“Maui was just the place we wanted to go,” he said. “I needed it. Obviously, we all needed it.”

Vacation has such a long tradition of relaxed inhibitions and guards being lowered, it is easy to fear the worst from our guests. As we walk this COVID-19 tightrope together, it is good to know that among the horror stories and selfish slipups, there are thoughtful, careful visitors trying to keep us safe.

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