Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Read the first article about what’s it like in Hawaii during COVID-19 here.

It’s all about spam and rice

Spam and rice in Hawaii is our meat and potatoes.  Spam is fantastic because the cans are small, the use-by date is about 2 years out, it doesn’t need refrigeration, and doesn’t need cooking. Rice can last 4-5 years. So it just so happens that Hawaii’s favorite foods are perfect emergency rations.  This makes your Costco emergency shopping list really simple: spam, rice, and toilet paper.   Right now in my house we’ve got a 14 day supply of the essentials.

Economic impact in Hawaii during emergencies like COVID-19

Very few people have to go to Hawaii to do business here. Most of it is done over phone or Internet.  The overwhelming majority of visitors to Hawaii are coming here for vacation, and vacations to Hawaii is the first thing one takes off their list during any kind of crisis.  

Tourism is a fantastic industry when it’s working.  It’s the worst when the stuff hits the fan. There are many different reasons why people can understandably freak out and put their trip to Hawaii on hold, whether it’s an economic downturn, war, or a pandemic flu. 

As of this writing, there is a 14 day quarantine for anyone that arrives in Hawaii, be they visitors or returning residents.  So that means you’re going to spend your 2 week vacation holed up in a hotel room and then you’ll jump on a plane and come right back home.  As you can imagine returning residents are the only ones on those planes, which at least makes social distancing on the flight very easy – there’s no one on it!

So whether it’s been the crash of 1987, the Gulf War, 9/11, the crash of 2008, or the COVID-19 CoronaVirus of 2020, the economy of Hawaii takes a big hit.  Things pretty much come to a grinding halt. One one hand, the beaches are empty and traffic is a breeze. On the other hand, lots of people lose their jobs, and businesses that were borderline profitable have to shut down. 

For as long as we’ve been a state (1959), there has always been a drive to diversify our economy such that we’re not as dependent on tourism as we used to be.  Over 60 years later we’re still massively dependent on tourism. Our lack of diversification is by no means due to lack of effort or will, as many people (myself included) have tried really hard to get something else started here but for one reason or another, it hasn’t happened.

Economic disruptions like these are another element that adds to the fear factor we face in Hawaii.  When there is talk of war, we dread what is to come because we know our beaches will be empty. When the market crashes, we know the next headline will be about tourism plummeting. And now with COVID-19 CoronaVirus, the world is coming to a standstill and so will our economy. 

Couple that with Hawaii’s high cost of living, the fact that many people are living paycheck to paycheck, with many businesses normally hanging by a thread, and it doesn’t take much to put us in a world of economic hurt.

Spirit of Aloha is as strong as ever in Hawaii during a crisis like COVID-19 CoronaVirus

Just last night I was talking with a friend of mine on the mainland that works at a Walmart and he was telling me how they have to post security guards over the toilet paper not because of theft, but because of people getting into physical fights over it. 

I’ve seen social media videos about people getting into fights during Black Friday Door Buster events but it didn’t occur to me that there would also be fights over groceries. It never occurred to me because in Hawaii, that’s just not something we would do here. Of course that’s a generalization and there are always exceptions, but predominantly, overwhelmingly, in Hawaii, people will just calmly wait their turn in line. We’re used to that. We’re used to crowds and waiting in long lines for other things. So waiting in line for a long time for toilet paper is no big deal.

Thankfully, the Aloha Spirit is alive and well and it really helps during times like these.  Yes, we’ll rush to the gas station to fill the tank, we’ll run to Costo for spam, rice, and toilet paper, and on our way there we’ll probably face massive crowds and long lines. Beeping in traffic is extremely rare, you’ll never see people flaring up in the grocery line, and we’ll still take the time to be courteous to others. 

And reflecting up this as I write it, perhaps this Aloha Spirit, especially during a crisis, is our saving grace.  Whether it’s hurricanes, tsunamis, market crashes, wars, or COVID-19 CoronaVirus, we know we’re going to get our butts kicked. People will lose their jobs, businesses will go under, property might get damaged, or people may die.  But through all of this, we’re still islanders. We’re going to look out for each other as best we can and practice kindness where it’s needed most. 

If one ever needs confirmation that the Spirit of Aloha is alive and well in Hawaii, the experience during a crisis will make you a believer.  For me, I’ll take my chances in the Aloha State.