HFC’s Biggest Stories of 2020 in Review

by Edwin Quinabo

YEAR-IN-REVIEW: 2020 will be a marker in history, the year COVID-19 devastated communities around the globe with the US posting the highest infections and death rates in the world. 2020 was rocked with the worst public health crisis not seen since the early 1900s. Lockdowns, curfews, fear of contracting the virus led to historic job losses and business closures, the worst in the history of the US that prompted a historic response – government stimulus packages of unprecedented proportions.

In just two months into the pandemic, 22 million jobs nationally were wiped out. Hawaii’s bread and butter industry, tourism, tanked in what felt to many like an overnight bust  – from a scale of 10 (prosperous and reliable over many decades) down to 1 (on life support, dismantling decades of gains). The economic blackhole of Hawaii’s tourism had a gravitational pull on all sectors of Hawaii’s economy.

Hawaii’s overreliance on tourism and the need to transition to a diversified economy was a top talking point in the 2020 Honolulu mayor’s race that resulted in the election of TV executive Rick Blangiardi, a newbie to politics who outdrew at the polls marquee veteran politicians. His victory sent a strong message that occupying a seat at the highest level of local government is no longer reserved for career politicians. An outsider, can in fact, beat the odds and win.

Also on elections, 2020 saw the most contentious presidential race ever. All records for voter turnout were shattered as millions voted for a first time by mail or risked contracting the deadly virus to vote in-person at polls for either Democrat Joe Biden or incumbent Republican Donald Trump – that is how passionate voters were over the presidential race. The result: a landslide victory for Biden; and a losing candidate in Trump who set off a series of failed challenges contesting the election. And in the process, shaking the foundation of the nation’s democratic institutions.

Amid the pandemic came yet another momentous historical event.  Not since the 1960s have our nation seen civil unrest that spilled onto city streets across the country. The death of George Floyd in police custody — a killing replayed on networks and social media again and again — sparked protests over racial justice. It is time for a racial reckoning, protestors demanded, that police brutality end and that Black Lives Mattered. The civil unrest was far from just a Black community effort. Millions of Americans of all races, including many in Hawaii, showed their solidarity for this ongoing movement.

HFC chronicled all the historic events of 2020. The following is a top 10 Year-in-Review that appeared in the HFC as cover stories, editorials, news or topics written about by our columnists. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic was all-encompassing that it had to be broken down into five areas: health, economy, stimulus packages, the vaccine and social impact. In each of them, a Filipino-community angle were included in the original articles (see our archives of articles on our website).


#1:  330,000-PLUS AMERICANS DIE TO COVID-19
As of Dec. 26, 2020, there were 18,819,581 confirmed cases and 330,884 deaths from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering. Hawaii is second to last in the nation (behind Vermont) in COVID-19 confirmed cases and deaths at 21,147 cases and 1,494 deaths.

Hospitalization due to COVID-19 averaged above 100,000 patients daily since the first week of December. Capacity at hospitals nationwide averaged between 80 percent and beyond 100 percent at peak times of COVID-19. Hospitalizations hit a record high for the seventh day in a row, Dec. 26, registering 108,487 patients in hospitals around the country, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

The numbers of cases, deaths, and hospitalization are expected to continue to post record highs throughout the pandemic’s winter peak.

The COVID-19 battle often has been referred to as our nation’s invisible war. For a perspective comparing casualties due to the pandemic versus other major US disasters, the coronavirus pandemic eclipses most of them combined: Sept. 11 attacks, 2,997 deaths; Revolutionary War 4,435 deaths; Post-9/11 War on Terror operations, 7,024 deaths; H1N1 flu pandemic, 12,469 deaths; Korean War, 36,574 deaths; Vietnam War: 58,220 deaths; World War 1, 116,516 deaths.

Only WWII, the US Civil War and the 1918-1919 flu pandemic have had more US casualties. Based on projections, by the time the coronavirus pandemic is over, it’s possible that it could have the highest casualty due to one event in all of US history.

This is how major a tragedy the US has experienced in just one year and why COVD-19 deaths alone is hands down the number one news story for 2020.

#2: US, HAWAII ECONOMY TANKS (GDP DROPS, UNEMPLOYMENT REACH RECORD HIGHS, BUSINESSES CLOSE AT RATES NEVER SEEN BEFORE)
The damage to the US economy caused by COVID-19 hit with a speed and ferocity unseen in US history. The recession is often described as being worse than the 9/11 and 2018 recessions combined; and nothing ever has come close in magnitude since the Great Depression.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) declared the COVID-19 pandemic recession had started in February 2020 as US GDP declined 5% in the first quarter of 2020.

By the time businesses started to shut down largely due to lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, the pace of devastation to the economy accelerated and had become officially a national emergency. By the second quarter of the year, there was a 31.4% decline in GDP.

Again for historical perspective, quarterly GDP has never declined greater than 10% since record keeping began in 1947.

Already in a full recession by March 2020, the Department of Labor reported 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment in the week ending March 21; and in the following week 6.9 million more. For comparison of how big a number these were, prior to 2020, the highest report of individuals filing for unemployment in a week was 695,000 people. And following the peak unemployment claims of Spring 2020 (national unemployment reached 14.7%), millions more of Americans filed for unemployment.

Small business closure reached a peak of 43 percent nationally. According to an analysis by online business-rating platform Yelp, Hawaii has the second-highest rate (behind Nevada) among states for permanent business closures from March 1 to July 10 (6.9 permanent closures per 1,000 businesses).UHERO reports that 6-15% of businesses in Hawaii would close permanently. That percentage could be higher by the time the pandemic ends.

While Hawaii arguably has been the most successful model in combating the coronavirus (data of infections and death rates consistently among the top 3 lowest), it became clearer as the months passed that the takeaway from government regulations and the required 14-day self-quarantine for travelers (residents and visitors) have had harsh consequences. Hawaii’s economy is among the worst hit in the nation due to COVID-19.Gov. David Ige recalls before the pandemic hit, “We were coming off a record year, a seventh record year of visitor arrivals. The economy was doing well, we had predicted healthy revenue streams.”As soon as the pandemic hit, he said “Everything collapsed. It was this economic challenge that was deeper than 9/11 and the Great Recession combined. And it happened in a much shorter window! In a matter of four weeks, we went from the lowest unemployment rate in the country, to the highest unemployment rate in the country.”

#3: GOVERNMENT RESPONDS TO CRISIS WITH HISTORIC STIMULUS PACKAGES
Responding to the historic economic fallout, on March 27, 2020, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed the $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill called the CARES Act, the largest relief stimulus ever. Most Americans received a direct stimulus payment of $1,200 and children $500.  Corporations got $500 billion in loans, local governments $339.8 billion of which monies in part went to unemployment benefits, and small businesses $350 billion (then later increased to $669 billion).

The small business assistance was called Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that were forgivable loans if the business receiving aid upheld certain requirements. But many critics called the PPP loans a disaster. It wasn’t specific enough and led to widespread abuse by larger companies, some with more than 500 employees grabbed up $143 million in relief loans. The money allocated for PPP went up fast leaving many small businesses unable to tap those funds.

Nine months later, days before Christmas, Congress finally passed a second stimulus package of $900 billion that extends unemployment benefits, supports local government, aids renters, and gives a second round of direct payments, half ($600.00) of the first one.

Sen. Brian Schatz said of the latest stimulus package, “Help is on the way. With this bill now signed into law, at least $1.7 billion will now flow to Hawai‘i to help those who’ve lost their job or can’t make rent. It will provide more money for businesses, and give our state, hospitals, and health care providers more resources to distribute the vaccine and fight this pandemic. While it’s not enough, and we still have more work to do, this will provide help immediately.”

Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, Mich., Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool)

#4: COVID-19 VACCINES APPROVED, DISTRIBUTION AND ADMINISTERING BEGINS
One of, if not the biggest triumph for science in decades, the first vaccine for COVID-19 Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine or BNT162b2 was approved by the FDA and CDC for emergency use in the month of Dec. 2020.  A week later, a second COVID-19 vaccine was also approved for the Moderna vaccine. Both vaccines rely on new technology that uses MRNA to spark an immune response in people who are vaccinated. MRNA tricks cells into producing bits of protein that look like pieces of the virus. The immune system learns to recognize and attack those bits and, in theory, would react fast to any actual infection.

The scientific breakthrough was nothing short of amazing as the vaccines went through discovery, clinical trials, and approval for use within one year that normally, absent of the urgency brought about by this pandemic, would have taken years. Both vaccines require two doses for over 90% efficacy. Public health officials say the goal is to get at least 75% of the population inoculated in order for herd immunity.

Marilyn Cadiz of Pearl City said she is thrilled about the vaccine. “Everyone has been under a lot of stress. There is too much sadness for those who already died. We all want to get back to normalcy. When the vaccine is available to me, I’ll get it. I do understand people being afraid in the beginning. But we should remember that tens of thousands have already taken the vaccine in multiple clinical trials.”

While scientists did their part in this remarkably speedy achievement, phase 2, the delivery and administering of the vaccine is just weeks old. Select high-risk populations are scheduled to receive the vaccines first as recommended by the CDC, then each state will determine when other groups, and eventually the general public can begin to get the vaccine. The earliest projections for inoculation of the general public is sometime in early Spring, 2021.

#5: WE HAVE A NEW PRESIDENT, JOE BIDEN
It took longer than usual to announce the winner of the 2020 presidential election due to many states for the first time implementing mail-in voting; but the results of the election was a resounding win for Democrat standard bearer Joe Biden over President Donald Trump. Biden won both the electoral votes 306-232, and the popular votes 81,281,888-74,223,251 (51.38% to 46.91%).  President-elect Biden will be sworn in Jan. 20, 2021 to become the 46th president of the United States. Trump’s loss is the first time an incumbent president has not been reelected to a second term since George Bush Sr.

Marilyn Corpuz, Pearl City, a retired government clerk, said of Biden: “He’s a likeable, honest man, the opposite of Trump. I think he is the right person to have challenged Trump. I’m not too sure someone could have beaten Trump. Biden appeals to many people from different backgrounds. I think he got some of Trump’s working class white male base to cross over this election. This probably helped him win.”

#6: AMERICANS’ LIVES ALTERED BY COVID-19
No one would have anticipated before 2020 that schools and work would be conducted online; or that people would be wearing masks in public and keep distance apart. The imagery resembles a scene in some apocalyptic Hollywood movie. But it was all too real (even surreal) in 2020 as local government issued lockdowns, curfews and CDC safety guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The abrupt and dramatic social changes have taken a toll on the mental health of many Americans. Depression, fear, anxiety, feelings of isolation were all common as person-to-person contact and socialization were minimized.  Living in close quarters for 24-7 have been reported to lead to higher rates of domestic abuse, divorces and suicides. Shortly after new rules were implemented, mask-wear became a political issue, largely among Trump supporters who viewed it as oppressive and an infringement of their freedom.

In time, many small businesses complained that stay-at-home orders were unfair – big corporations were allowed to operate while smaller business enterprises were forced to remain closed. Public health officials said even while vaccines are being rolled out, CDC safety guidelines must still be practiced. People also should still avoid hotspots like gyms, bars, restaurants (dine-in), and if possible, avoid using public transportation.

#7: HONOLULU ELECTS NEW MAYOR
First-time political candidate Rick Blangiardi beat out another newbie to politics Keith Amemiya 58.2 to 38.8 percent in what was one of the most slanted races for Honolulu mayor. Blangiardi won in almost each island’s precincts and appealed to Hawaii’s broad demographics.

Blangiardi and Amemiya beat out several veteran politicians in the primary election, including former Congresswoman and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann. The only Filipino-American candidate in the 2020 mayor’s race was City Councilwoman Kym Pine who finished fourth in the Primary.

Voters say Blangiardi must hit the ground running as soon as he assumes office. Ahead of him are problems beyond normal typical city management issues that other incoming mayors have had to face. The pandemic crisis adds safety concerns and a budgetary shortfall. The pandemic could also exacerbate Honolulu’s already urgent homelessness crisis. The rail needs a successful, on-budget completion.

Blangiardi is the son of immigrants and grew up in a working-class community in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He moved to Hawaii in the 1960s and played football for the University of Hawaii. He retired in January 2020 from a long and illustrious career in television on the mainland and in Hawaii. He was former general manager of Hawaii News Now.

He’s had extensive executive experience leading huge companies which was attractive to Hawaii voters who see his background and leadership well suited to steer Honolulu toward economic recovery deflated by the pandemic.

#8: Democracy Almost Dies
Dec. 11, 2020 is a day that legal scholars say democracy as we know it to be in the US almost died. After numerous (over 50, at state and federal courts) attempts by Trump’s legal team to contest the 2020 General Election results, all of it came to a head when Texas AG filed a suit at the US Supreme Court asking the highest court of the land to overthrow the results of the entire election by invalidating the battleground states’ election results.

Texas listed in briefs, elections procedures Texas found to be unfair in other states. In essence, Texas was attempting to interfere in the elections procedure of all battleground states which goes against the Constitution which clearly gives states the sole authority to determine how their elections are conducted. Should SCOTUS have agreed with TX, the entire manner of elections would have been altered by rule of precedence. It would not have just been limited to elections, but states could be suing other states for basically anything under the sun, beyond what’s currently done like for water rights and other rare, limited reasons.

SCOTUS rejected Texas’ lawsuit that finally put an end to Trump’s legal challenges. It was the last and deciding legal dead-end for Trump contesting the 2020 election. Legal experts called the suit plainly, ridiculous and that it would go nowhere. SCOTUS, which has three justices nominated by Trump, all agreed for the lawsuit to be thrown out, not even heard. In legal terms, based on the briefs filed, justices found the suit had no standing. There was no merit to this case for SCOTUS to hear arguments or render a judgement.

#9: BLM: PROTESTS AND RIOTS ROCK AMERICAN CITIES
On May 25, 2020 George Floyd, alleged to have passed a counterfeit $20 bill, was killed by police in Minneapolis, MN. The nation watched video footage of Floyd being detained by four police officers, one of whom knelt on Floyd’s neck for a period of more than 8 minutes, which ultimately led to his death.

Floyd’s death sparked massive protests in cities throughout the country calling for an end to police brutality on the Black community. His death revealed that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work remains unfinished. Specifically, that there is unequal treatment of Blacks in policing.

Since Floyd’s death and BLM’s storming the streets (to be differentiated from opportunist looters), cities and municipalities have been demanding policing reform. Among some of the demands are Citizens Commissions be given more muscle to oversee police departments (police unions self-policing is not working); the creation of a national data system that tracks wrongful complaints filed against police officers; a ban on chokeholds; body cams must be turned on each time an officer engages in police work; stop military grade weapons from being handed down to police departments; and ensure the use of deadly force must be limited to only life and death situations.

Many who joined the BLM movement represented diverse communities and colors, not just Black Americans. Demonstrators talk of policing reform as not just a BLM versus police issue. At the core of the movement, its’ about public safety and stopping police brutality.

#10: US CENSUS YEAR
Each 10 years, the U.S. Census is launched to determine how more than $675 billion in federal funds are spent each year. Arguably next to voting in elections, the Census is the second most impactful way to get government to improve their communities.

Participating in the Census could be the difference in whether a community will get federal monies for a local hospital, clinic or school; how much will go to maintaining roads, freeways; or how funds are spent from Medicare to housing, environmental, transportation or community development programs.

In a George Washington University study, Hawaii received allocation of funds for 55 Federal spending programs that were guided by data derived from the last 2010 Census. To name a few of the programs, financial assistance went to Medicaid, federal student loans, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Highway Planning and Construction, Section 8 Housing, National School Lunch Program, State Children’s Health Insurance Program. These are programs that help feed needy children, give students a chance at attaining higher education, provide health insurance to seniors or people who cannot afford it, or keep the marginal poor from becoming homeless.

Hawaii residents were encouraged to participate in the Census to ensure all or some of these programs could continue. At the community level, it was also paramount for minorities to be represented and participate, which is actually mandated by law.

#11: OHANA MEDICAL MISSION GOES TO BAGONG SILANG AND THE ILOCOS REGION
The Hawaii-based charitable organization Ohana Medical Mission, Inc. embarked on yet another medical mission to help indigent communities in the Philippines. In February, OMM went to Bagong Silang, a place where OMM Executive Director JP Orias, says OMM visits every other year to provide free medical care.

Also during the OMM February 2020 trip, medical and lay volunteers traveled to the Philippines’ northernmost region to Ilocos Norte  (Pasuquin, Dadaeman, Sarrat, Banna) and Ilocos Sur (Cabugao, Cuantacla, Sinait, San Esteban) – two provinces of the Philippines where tens of thousands of Hawaii Filipinos can trace their origins. Over 60 OMM volunteers — comprised of physicians, nurses, a pharmacist, and lay staff support – provided free medical and free dental care, minor surgical procedures to residents on-site; and gave away tens of thousands worth of prescription medicine, medical supplies, eyeglasses, and basic necessities like food.

This February mission was OMM’s 15th medical mission.




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