Hawaii could face civil unrest, rioting if coronavirus reopening doesn't happen quicker, top official says

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Hawaii’s top emergency response official said  Monday he fears there will be civil unrest and rioting if the state doesn’t speed up its process of reopening the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“If we let the economy go the way it’s going, there will be, I feel, significant unrest that could lead to civil disobedience. In worst case, civil disturbance and rioting,” Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, the state director of emergency management, told lawmakers Monday.

Hara, who heads the state's coronavirus response team, argued before the state House Select Committee on COVID-19 in Honolulu Monday that, despite pushback from the department of health, Hawaii must accept the risk of an increase in new infections because the longer they wait, the harder it will be for the economy to recover, KHON2 reported.

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“At some point we need to accept risk,” Hara said. “We have to accept that people will get infected and we have to push it to the threshold of what our health-care system can handle.”

Carl Bonham, the founder of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO), echoed Hara’s fears of civil unrest and pushed for the committee to meet with Gov. David Ige this week.

“We’ve never faced anything more critical than this in the state. If we don’t get this right and get it right now, I mean the aspects are really dismal,” Bonham said.

March 28, 2020: A couple sits on an empty section of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. Hawaii law enforcement authorities are cracking down on rogue tourists who are visiting beaches, jetskiing, shopping and generally flouting strict requirements that they quarantine for 14 days after arriving.

March 28, 2020: A couple sits on an empty section of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. Hawaii law enforcement authorities are cracking down on rogue tourists who are visiting beaches, jetskiing, shopping and generally flouting strict requirements that they quarantine for 14 days after arriving. (AP)

Ige, a Democrat, told reporters in a press conference Monday afternoon that Hara, who is also the state’s adjutant general in charge of the Hawaii National Guard, “is always planning for the worst-case scenario,” the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.

“I do not believe that we would get to civil unrest here in our community, just judging by the public’s response to the mandates and, more importantly, everyone doing their part — taking responsibility, social distancing and really helping us flatten the curve,” Ige said.

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March 3, 2020: Gov. David Ige speaks to reporters at the state Department of Health's laboratory in Pearl City, Hawaii. On Saturday, April 25, 2020, Ige extended the state's state-at-home order and the mandatory quarantine for visitors through May 31. 

March 3, 2020: Gov. David Ige speaks to reporters at the state Department of Health's laboratory in Pearl City, Hawaii. On Saturday, April 25, 2020, Ige extended the state's state-at-home order and the mandatory quarantine for visitors through May 31.  (AP)

Hawaii, as of Wednesday, has recorded 635 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 17 deaths, according to the state department of health. Just one new case was recorded within the last 24-hour period. At least 81 COVID-19 patients have required hospitalization.

The state’s tourist-centric economy, meanwhile, has taken a serious blow since the governor’s stay-at-home order took effect on March 25, which shut down all non-essential businesses and forced restaurants to switch to take-out or delivery.

Travel has plummeted to the islands both due to fears of infection and a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone coming from out of state. More than 100 hotels have closed their doors.

More than 225,000 Hawaiians have filed for unemployment since March, but the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations experienced major delays in sending out benefit checks due to its obsolete computer system, the Tribune-Herald reported. Phone banks became overwhelmed by frustrated callers checking on their status.

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The governor said Monday that the state must continue to see a declining trend in positive COVID-19 tests as well as ensure the number of new infections doesn’t exceed the capacity of Hawaii’s hospitals, including ICU unit beds and ventilators.

The state, which averages between 400 and 500 tests per day, must also reach the goal of carrying out at least 3,000 tests per day and expand contact tracing before Hawaii can safely reopen, he added.