Today, there have been a total of 60 cases with 0 active cases in a population of almost 72,000 people. When the first case of COVID-19 hit the island, our local officials quickly and efficiently enacted a shelter-in-place. By the end of May, Kaua’i had no active cases for five weeks and was able to open their economy, on a trial basis. Kauai’s local officials communicated status and goals to the population every day, as well as encouraging the population to maintain their physical and mental health and safely go outside, exercise, stay healthy, and go to the beach (not in groups).
I doubt it was a coincidence that outdoor public works projects employing numerous people were also happening during this time. Tourism was virtually halted, but there was a clear voice of compassion and assistance programs for those not working. Extreme measures were put in place to ensure that all visitors followed a very strict 14 day quarantine, and every effort was made on enforcement reassuring the commitment to public safety, including single use hotels keys well as a very visible national guard making sure no one arrived in any airports undetected. Utilizing extraordinary communication, it genuinely felt as if everyone truly was in this together and the island was united in keeping the population safe while opening the economy.
WHAT MAKES KAUA’I UNIQUE?
The “Garden Island” is exactly that. Its rainforests are rimmed by almost impenetrable mountains, the island’s interior has defied “civilization” and 97% of its land is composed of undeveloped mountain ranges and rainforests. Kaua’i has the highest number of endemic plant species in the Hawaiian Archipelago with 140 of them listed as federally endangered. It also has 43 miles of beaches, the most per coastal mile out of any of the other islands in the chain. Local codes prohibit buildings over four stories and the permanent residents, most of whom live in small communities along the coast, prefer to keep it that way. Massive waterfalls, huge exotic tropical plants and orchids, hundreds of beautiful birds, and a temperature in the 70s and the 80s are part of daily life year-round.
HISTORY, CULTURE & GEOGRAPHY
What made Kaua’i so responsive in the face of uncertainty? Some of that may be found in the political and historical culture and a government that puts the needs of the native population first as opposed to primarily representing business, corporations, and private interests. Kaua’i is the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands and lies to the north of them. It is estimated to be 5.1 million years old. Separated from O’ahu by a 60-mile-wide channel, Kaua’i was geographically isolated from the rest of the island chains allowing Kaua’i to develop a distinctive native Hawaiian culture and dialect and protected them from attack until Western contact changed the lives, culture, and people of Kaua’i forever. Historical events, many of them painful, resulted in consciousness of land ownership, political activism, women’s and immigrants’ rights, and maintaining some control of their economic and political systems, ahead of much of the world. This separation today and distinct culture now protects its inhabitants, not only in its remoteness, but also lack of over-development, and nimbleness of a compassionate self-governing community.
LONGEVITY, HEALTH, AND LIFESTYLE
According to The Commonwealth Fund 2019 Scorecard on State Health System Performance evaluating access to care, quality of care, health outcomes and health disparities across the US, Hawai’i has remained number 1 in overall ranking despite having 22% of the population below the federal poverty level. Hawaiians make it to the ripe old age of 81.3 on average and Hawai’i was rated #1 “U.S. States Where People Live the Longest.” Ample physical activity and access to fresh locally grown food constitute the two main components of typical island lifestyle on Kaua’i.
There have been numerous studies demonstrating that traditional foods in the Hawaiian diet provide protection against viruses, bacterial infections and chronic illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and inflammatory conditions. Some of the best turmeric in the world is grown here and can be shipped to the mainland (SecretBeachOrganics.com).
I do have to mention that I had some hesitation in writing this article. Despite my love and passion for Kaua’i, I did not want to oversimplify local complex issues or to mis-speak on the perspectives of Native Hawaiians or life-long residents. Additionally, if you are ready to book a flight today to visit, be a little patient. It may be awhile before tourism returns to normal. If you are looking to potentially move here, be part of the solution not part of the problem. There is a reason that numerous people who could live anywhere own or owned property on Kauai… Michael Crichton, Julia Roberts, Glenn Fry, Graham Nash, Pierce Brosnan, Ben Stiller, Bette Midler, Will Smith and Mark Zuckerberg just to name a few.