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A local teacher and a server look back on the pandemic shutdown 3 years later

Highway Inn restaurant hostess Ku'uipo Lorenzo, left, seats two customers after they showed proof of vaccination on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, in Honolulu. To comply with local mandates, the restaurant required all indoor diners to show proof of vaccination or have a recent negative test result before being seated. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)
Caleb Jones/AP
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AP
FILE - Highway Inn restaurant hostess Ku'uipo Lorenzo, left, seats two customers after they showed proof of vaccination on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)

Three years ago today, “lockdown” was a keyword across the islands. As the pandemic stretched on, those on the front lines included medical workers, but also people working in restaurants and schools.

As part of our continuing project with the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa's Center for Oral History, we are focusing on their experiences with UH ethnic studies professor Ethan Caldwell.

Charlotte Murphy has been a server in hotel restaurants for many years. The pandemic shut down her job, and when everything started opening again, she had to make the difficult decision about whether or not to return to work.

MURPHY: For me, going back to work was a really hard decision because of my age. I'm 70. So I was in that high-risk category, as well as I had some health issues with my husband and stuff that I was, I was really fearful to go back. And the vaccine was, you know, instrumental in giving me the confidence to go back. I always felt like, for the workers to go back to work, there was like, there was this little cartoon I posted on Instagram when I was considering going back to work. Itʻs a waiter going through the door with a person with a gun in his back not appropriate for this climate and it just said, smile on the bottom. You know, you got to do it, you know, so, so I had that feeling, you know, wow, I don't want to do this, but I gotta. For me, it was like, I had a husband to help with the house. He was still working so I couldn't imagine how other people felt that depended on their income, you know, single mothers, single people, you know, who didn't have somebody else to lean on.

John Delos Reyes is a sixth grade teacher at Waialua Elementary School. He was preparing for the last few months of classes for the year when the pandemic forced his school to shut down.

DELOS REYES: They extended spring break hoping that COVID would calm down a little bit. Unfortunately it snowballed. And we spent fourth quarter distance learning, which is really unfortunate just because as a teacher, you really push for the fourth quarter. Like you spent all year prepping for fourth quarter because that's like the testing. That's like the big events, huge field trips, end-of-school assemblies and all the really fun stuff. And then, of course, closing out my classroom is the most important thing. Like everything that I teach the whole year and then bringing it around full circle. And then right now I can leave you to go to fourth grade. And I had to do that over webcam. When we were doing fourth quarter, and Iʻm sure like all the teachers in Hawaiʻi can attest to that, we were just trying to keep our heads afloat. We really werenʻt prepared for distance learning curriculum, to have to shift from in-school, in-person, no training to immediately fully distance. Like, I don't think anybody was prepared for it. We had to make up curriculum on the fly. And it was, it was a mess.

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This oral history project is supported by the SHARP initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities through the American Council of Learned Societies.

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