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(This series of stories is told from the perspective of our principal and managing partner, Justin Whedbee, CCP. During the COVID-19 outbreak beginning in early 2020, Justin did his best to continue serving our clients in the Islands while complying with travel restrictions and a variety of challenges brought on by the virus and accompanying shutdowns.)
The planes were so empty they had to load weights (ballast) just to keep the plane in balance for the flights.

Kauai happened to be my first trip for work after the shutdown; in fact, during the next two months, I traveled to Kauai eight times. Kauai was not only the most difficult to access, but also always had a large National Guard presence at the airport. It gave off a militant and unwelcome feel, or at least it seemed to be what they were trying to convey. As an island with one small hospital and only nine ICU beds, they took COVID very seriously, as a large outbreak would quickly overwhelm the island’s resources.

During my first few trips, the police and National Guard were set up on the road exiting the airport. To obtain your rental car, you had to provide your work exemption letter at the counter. As you were leaving the airport, they would check this again and ask where you were going. The routine varied slightly every trip. One time, a National Guard soldier quickly waved me through without another word once I stated my intentions. Another trip, I was asked to pull to the side by Kauai Police, and even after producing the exemption paperwork they still took more than ten minutes before releasing me. As COVID went on, the process continued to evolve, until it was stationed back inside the airport arrivals but before baggage and before reaching the car rental center. After questioning, you would be provided a colored card (which changed regularly) to be able to proceed with your rental.

Rental cars stored at the end of Runway 3 in Kauai as they didn’t have room to store them at the facilities.
Six people on this flight to Kauai. They told us what seats to use for weight and balance.

Each trip to Kauai was unique. While it is by far my favorite island, it had a very different feel to it during this time period. On my first trip, the first claim was a water loss in Kapaa from a leaking pipe. The homeowner was a woman in her seventies, taking care of her mother who was 94. The mother had multiple health conditions and needed regular intervening care. I completed my inspection as quickly as possible. This was early on in the shutdown, with a lot of confusion over messaging from the authorities. The claimant was very upset and said multiple times she didn’t know how she was going to cope with the shutdown, particularly regarding issues with the ongoing care her mother needed. As I was ready to depart, she broke down crying. I couldn’t just walk away, and would normally empathize and offer a hug, which was out of the question during COVID. Instead, I sat with her and we talked for about 30 minutes, not just about what was going on, but about life in general. It was nice to be able to help someone in a way beyond putting their home back together.

I then had another claim in Lihue and one more down towards the South Shore in Kalaheo. After wrapping up all my inspections, I headed back into town. As the Hawaiian Airlines schedule was down to three flights a day from the normal fifteen, I had another two and a half hours to wait before my departure. I went to Nawiliwili Park by the harbor to eat my lunch and make some work phone calls, all while sitting in my rental car. After about twenty minutes, a Kauai Police officer approached and asked if I was a tourist. I told him that I was there working for the day and making calls until my flight departed in a couple of hours. He stated that if my work was done, I had to return to the airport to wait for my flight. I asked him if returning to the airport, where I’d be surrounded by others, which increased my exposure to COVID, was better than sitting alone in my vehicle. He replied that Mayor Kawakami’s order required just that, so I thanked him and left. Stopping in the park was a mistake, so I traveled downtown and parked in a business lot with other vehicles and completed my calls.

Checkpoint leaving Lihue Airport to verify you had permission to be on the island.
Rental car transport van and the barrier they set up between the driver and passengers.

On a later trip, I had to go to Kauai and stay the night before due to an early morning appointment. With only three flights a day I could not get there early enough. The hotel in Kapaa was nearly empty, based on the few vehicles I counted in the parking lot. Other than the clerk working the front desk, I never saw another person in the hotel. I had to order food sent to the room, which was delivered outside my door – no knock, just a text message on my phone to alert me. The isolation of COVID was eerie in instances like this.

In the next installment I am going to cover my trips to Maui. Stay tuned!

Justin Whedbee

Justin joined his father’s independent adjusting firm while in college, and took over operations in 2001. Since then, his company grew to be the highest producing division of a national franchise with over 120 owners. In 2021, he formed MAS Solutions with John Walker, offering services across the U.S., Mexico and Latin America.

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