A few days ago, I received a text from a friend in Singapore: “Lockdown is ending not because the virus is gone, but because ICU beds are now available.”
Singapore is different from Hawaii, but the same general principle applies to us here. The virus is still around, but we are reopening because we feel we can somehow contain the damage it will cause, and because the cost of economic shutdown is unbearable. As Hawaii begins to reopen from a soul-crushing lockdown, a dramatic dance of life and livelihood is about to begin.
Many well-intentioned experts will no doubt be a part of the great reboot. However, the final decision makers will have to weigh conflicting advice against their own political wisdom. No matter how prudently they act, not everyone will be satisfied.
To our political leaders, we offer three principles to deal with this long crisis which will likely come to us in waves.
1. Think Micro: You know Hawaii better than the federal government. The opposing sides of this open vs. close (of the economy) debate will feel the full force of every decision you make. Their long-term interests are quite aligned because we all live in the same small place.
In geography, think local (not island, but neighborhood, community, or district). In time, review plans day-by-day. In demographics, think age groups, labor categories and specific segments of our community.
We envision a control room with a wall-to-wall map of Hawaii showing the status of the crisis, in granular detail, updated in near real-time. Each neighborhood is either a RED (needing lockdown), YELLOW (maybe, wait-and-watch zone, or a buffer zone) and GREEN (open for business). There are several brilliant data visualization experts on the islands to assist with this.
Critical supply chain and health infrastructure, with their fallback arrangements, will need their own special tracking on this map.
2. Think Reversible: The defining characteristic of this crisis is its unpredictability. A detailed, but inflexible, project plan for an economic restart will fail on first contact with the reality. Adaptation is key.
The reboot management team will need to strike a balance between safety and economy—a balance that will never be perfect or popular. Without mass testing and a vaccine, the best we can do is to establish clear guardrails and keep the situation reasonably stable.
As such, a green neighborhood which is open for business may slide into a yellow if the leading indicators point to a potential relapse. If conditions deteriorate, the neighborhood may turn red (mandating a localized lockdown) to allow for its point-containment. The same thing can happen in the opposite direction. Once local conditions improve, a red zone may progress to a yellow, and eventually to a green.
The good news is that if we think of reversible actions on a micro level, we won’t have to endure another extended statewide lockdown. Instead, we can deal with cold, warm, or hot spots
3. Think Perception: What would it take for people in Hawaii to feel safe to go back to work in a downtown office? To shop at Ala Moana? The perception of relative safety, by individuals, will drive the recovery.
Should we deploy thermal screening? Mandate drive-through testing? Nearly everything will need to be reimagined to enable neighborhoods and the economy to reopen and thrive.
Similarly, the public needs to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Several plan-changes or even missteps will be made along the way, but every success story will uplift our spirits, and make the entire state smarter about dealing with this crisis.
The criteria for red-yellow-green classification will need to be crystal clear, and the “map” we propose should be shared with the public. Transparency will provide relative predictability, in the face of great uncertainty, for businesses. And for the public, a reason to comply with, what may otherwise seem arbitrary, decisions.