2020 continues to be a challenging year. It was almost as if the world stopped turning for a moment when we found out that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg had lost her battle to cancer. She had an extraordinary career as an advocate and pioneer, breaking down barriers against social and health inequities, fighting against gender and racial discrimination, and paving the way for women and those disadvantaged in our country. As a woman, she inspired others to question institutions and deeply entrenched systems that do not have an equal playing field. Her legacy inspires us at HIPHI to examine the way we conduct our work to ensure that inequities are shattered and that no one is denied the basic right to health.
In addition to losing a hero, we face new challenges in continuing this work. On September 4, 2020, the Director of the United States Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vought released a memo on what the administration perceives as anti-racism trainings, while President Trump released an Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping on September 22, 2020. The memo and order prohibit federal agencies and their subcontractors from using government funds to conduct and/or fund anti-racism trainings that address systemic racism and white privilege. This is extremely concerning, as public health agencies have declared racism as a public health crisis.
While mourning RBG and working to fight racism, we are still fighting COVID-19 as our country surpassed 200,000 deaths in September. It’s been six months since our state’s first stay at home order was issued to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Since then we have had over 12,000 cases statewide, 132 deaths (as of September 27, 2020), with nearly 300,000 tests administered and an average statewide positivity rate of 4.1 percent since the start of the pandemic (Hawaii’s daily high surpassed 12 percent on August 27). With the unemployment rate at 13.9 percent (as of July) and jobs declining every day, our state is on the path to economic collapse unless we band together to find sustainable solutions. The City & County of Honolulu recently released re-opening plans and the tier system they are following, using metrics to guide the re-opening. The Governor has also identified a new leadership team to oversee the state’s public health response to COVID-19 and the pre-travel testing program scheduled to start on October 15, 2020.
HIPHI will continue our bi-weekly emails providing our advocates and partners with critical, relevant information on COVID-19. We will also continue to host the Public Health Action Webinars shifting to a monthly schedule starting in October. The last webinar for September is tomorrow, 9/30/2020 from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm titled “Leveraging Institutional Purchasing Power to Drive Food System Change in Hawaiʻi.” You can register here to hear from Paula Daniels, of The Center for Good Food Purchasing, Randall Tanaka, Director of Facilities, Hawaiʻi Department of Education, Dexter Kishida, Oʻahu Food Access Coordinator, Office of Climate Change and Resilience, and Sarah Allen, State Procurement Office.
Facing two challenges simultaneously, racism and COVID-19, this year is taking a toll. But, in these challenging times we also have the opportunity to look at the inequities that have become even more prevalent in our state and look for solutions that invest in and empower our people instead of suppressing them. In honor of RBG, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
Until next time, stay well, take care of each other, and wear a mask.