Honolulu Civil Beat needs your help to raise $100,000 in reader support by September 1. Donations from readers like you remain essential to our existence.
Over the past six days we have raised $45,000 from 960 donors. Mahalo!
Hawaii Gov. David Ige is imposing a mandatory 14-day quarantine for everyone who arrives in Hawaii, including both tourists and residents, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The order will begin on Thursday at 12:01 a.m. and will apply to both visitors and residents. At a press conference at the Hawaii State Capitol on Saturday afternoon, Ige called the order “the first of its kind in the nation.”
Hawaii’s hospitality industry, which is the main driver of the state’s economy, has already been in free fall since earlier this week when the governor asked tourists to temporarily stop coming to Hawaii.
“There is no other time in the history of the planet where this has occurred,” Ige said of COVID-19. “It is impacting every single industry in our community.”
The governor has been under pressure to quell tourism as COVID-19 spreads. Hawaii has conducted about 2,500 tests — the vast majority at private labs — and as of Saturday afternoon, 48 tested positive up from 37 the day before. The vast majority of cases involve residents who returned from traveling elsewhere.
The governor’s new order is intended to discourage visitors from coming to the islands. Violating the order is a misdemeanor offense with a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to one-year imprisonment.
But whether and how the order will actually be enforced is unclear. State officials said that residents and visitors will be told to quarantine themselves in their homes and hotels. Enforcement will be left up to the counties.
”To be honest, we think it’s going to be very difficult to enforce this,” said Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, the state’s adjutant general, at Saturday’s press conference.
Saturday’s announcement deals a severe blow to Hawaii’s tourism industry which has seen mass layoffs this week in the wake of widespread trip cancellations.
Thousands of hotel and service industry workers overwhelmed the state’s unemployment insurance website this week due to the unprecedented traffic.
More job loss is likely to come. For example, Aulani, a Disney hotel in West Oahu, plans to close Tuesday.
Peter Ingram, chief executive officer of Hawaiian Airlines, said Saturday that the airlines’ revenue is “virtually zero” and that some days they have more cancellations than bookings. The company is offering employees voluntary furloughs.
He said that the airline has already seen a huge drop in arrivals and expects to cut flights further next week.
Ige said the delay in the implementation of the mandatory quarantine order is “really in order to allow our industry partners to make adjustments,” and ensure that “we don’t have someone come here and be surprised that they’d be quarantined for 14 days.”
The mandatory quarantine is in effect for an indefinite amount of time with few exceptions.
Officials said Saturday that flight crews leaving the airport will be exempt from the 14-day quarantine as long as they pass a temperature check. Hara said that anyone who supports essential services and other COVID-19 cases may apply for additional exemptions, although the process for applying is still yet to be established.
He said the state is moving forward with a plan to set up medical screening at the airport if the quarantine order is lifted.
Ige said he isn’t currently imposing a shelter-in-place order because the state’s sentinel surveillance found there is not currently evidence of COVID-19 in the broader community.
But House Speaker Scott Saiki doesn’t think the order is tough enough.
“The governor avoided the issue,” Saiki said in a phone interview. “And by doing that, he has jeopardized the health, safety and future of our state.”
Saiki on Thursday called for Ige to order more serious statewide restrictions. Saiki said that Ige should order residents to shelter in place immediately, and not wait for evidence of community spread to take that step.
“People are already beginning to stay in place,” Saiki said. “But they want guidance and direction from the government right now.”
Senate President Ron Kouchi declined comment, saying he was still preparing a written statement.
Kouchi said on Friday that while the governor should order mandatory 14-day quarantines for visitors, he should also order Hawaii residents to shelter in place.
The virus is hitting close to home for lawmakers. At least one, Sen. Clarence Nishihara, has tested positive for COVID-19 and is isolated at home under quarantine. Nishihara believes he picked the virus up on a recent trip to Las Vegas but returned to work at the State Capitol before he was tested.
Dr. Jim Ireland has been testing lawmakers and their staff after Nishihara’s diagnosis. He said Saturday he and three nurses volunteered to screen more employees at the Capitol.
About 120 people were screened. “About forty people were symptomatic and needed swabbing and quarantine,” Ireland said in an email. “People exposed but not symptomatic were not swabbed but were placed in quarantine.”
He declined to say who or if any legislators were among those who were quarantined, although Saiki acknowledged that he was self isolating out of an abundance of caution.
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.