Hawaii residents will need to stay put at least a month longer after Gov. David Ige on Saturday extended statewide stay-at-home orders, along with the current mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors, until May 31.
Some restrictions could be lifted throughout May, similar to a plan outlined this week by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. Ige said more of that guidance will come in the following days.
Before reopening anything, the governor said the state must weigh a number of factors including availability of hospital beds and resources.
“My fear is, if we move too quickly to reopen, we could see a sudden surge of cases,” Ige said at a press conference.
Extending the orders by another month means Hawaii’s tourism industry will also stay closed for at least that long. Hotels in the state are already limping along at an 8% occupancy rate, with average nightly revenues from rooms at about $11.
The local workforce has also been hit hard, with over 200,000 unemployment applications filed with the state.
But the state must closely monitor its health care capacity, such as the number of hospital beds and ventilators available, before any of the restrictions on business, gatherings and travel are lifted, Ige said.
Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson said he expects a resurgence in cases once the state reopens, but hopes that it can be managed by the health care system.
Clash With Honolulu
Part of Ige’s proclamation requires that mayors get his approval before making any new rules or orders.
Caldwell objected to that provision in a letter to the governor on Saturday, calling it an overreach and saying it would slow down county-level responses.
“Consistency is a good thing, but not as important as the need to act,” Caldwell writes in the letter.
Caldwell wrote that the provision undermines the mayors’ ability to lead their counties, and called Ige’s review process unnecessary.
The Honolulu mayor suggested that the county mayors and Ige agree to share proposed emergency orders and rules with each other and allow for a 24 to 48 hour comment period to take suggestions.
During the press conference Saturday, Ige said he included that provision to increase collaboration between the counties. He said the new state orders Saturday do not apply retroactively to orders already in place in each county.
“We thought it would be very disruptive to affect anything the counties implemented to date,” Ige said.
New System For Quarantine
Ige’s administration has been under pressure by the public and a panel of state senators to tighten regulations of the travel quarantine.
Earlier in the week, the airports division of the state Department of Transportation implemented a new screening process for visitors and returning residents that includes verifying mobile numbers and home or hotel addresses.
Tim Sakahara, DOT spokesman, detailed the new procedures at the press conference Saturday.
Hawaii National Guard members check each passenger’s temperature. Those that have a fever are screened by paramedics while the others continue through the verification process.
People disembarking planes must also sign forms acknowledging that violating quarantine could result in a misdemeanor with penalties including a $5,000 fine and less than a year in jail.
Airport staff call the mobile numbers travelers wrote on their forms while they are standing in front of them to make sure they’ve provided the correct number. After that, staff check the lodging or home addresses.
CORONAVIRUS IN HAWAII
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For visitors, staff call hotels to make sure they have a reservation. For residents, the staff check their address against county databases and their government ID.
“Frankly, if it takes a little bit longer to get through the process … it’s another deterrent for people wanting to visit Hawaii,” Sakahara said.
Sakahara also said that 20 DOT personnel are responsible for checking in on returning residents to make sure they are complying with the quarantine. HTA staff and the DOT are also making random calls to visitors to see if they are staying in their place of lodging.
The state is also weighing much stronger enforcement measures for travelers including ankle bracelets, facial recognition software and monitoring via GPS.
All those options need to be considered in light of the U.S. Constitution, Hawaii Attorney General Clare Connors said during a state Senate hearing on COVID-19 Friday.
The state is also considering monitoring travelers at a state designated facility. But that could come with its own problems, namely liability issues if travelers are forced to stay in a certain location designated by the state, Connors told the Senate special COVID-19 committee on Friday.
The AG’s office previously raised privacy concerns regarding the use of a GPS tracking component in a web application the state spent $65,000 on to monitor visitors. That component was ultimately removed when the app launched April 10.
Connors said the state’s quarantine policy and guidelines currently in place pass constitutional requirements “because it’s motivated by this public health crisis. It’s motivated to protect the community.”
Asked to comment on stronger enforcement measures at the press conference, Ige said his administration is still looking at ways to improve the quarantine system.
“That costs money, and it requires an extensive system to be implemented,” Ige said.
Through a previous proclamation, Ige also suspended operations of all short-term vacation rentals.
Sakahara said all addresses that visitors and residents provide are being sent to each county’s permitting department for verification. He also said counties will receive a list of suspected, illegal short term vacation sites.
“This should be a warning to all vacation rentals in the state to stop accepting visitor reservations,” Sakahara said.
Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell