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Gov. David Ige on Wednesday extended a mandatory 14-day travel quarantine for air passengers until July 31 as part of a new emergency proclamation, which also extends the effective date for a slew of other rules and directives as part of Hawaii’s response to the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the Honolulu City Council and Mayor Kirk Caldwell joined a chorus of voices calling for testing of inbound travelers when tourism from outside of the state resumes.
A separate travel quarantine for interisland passengers will be lifted June 16. Interisland travelers will be subject to a temperature check, and anyone with a fever higher than 100.4 degrees will not be allowed to board a plane. They’ll also have to fill out a more comprehensive health screening form.
“Interisland allows us to test our system and make sure it is safe,” the governor said at an afternoon press conference.
Tim Sakahara, the Department of Transportation spokesperson, announced a pilot passenger screening program that will run through June 26 that will include thermal temperature screening as well as the use of facial recognition cameras.
“We’ll study the capability and functionality, the cost, innovation, and consider other factors such as local support,” Sakahara said.
Five companies that bid on the project will be installing equipment next week at the Honolulu, Kahului, Lihue, Kona and Hilo airports.
“The program and the capability would only be internal to the airports, for the duration when travelers are within the airport, allowing us to identify those who have a high temperature,” said Ige.
There have been calls for expanded COVID-19 testing to make Hawaii safe for travel, which could reopen the tourism industry and pump life into the state’s economy. Reopening trans-Pacific travel is still under discussion, and testing will likely be a component of a multi-layered system, Ige said.
The state may also consider certain safe “travel corridors” for visitors from states that have lower caseloads or countries like Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Some western states have seen a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, which is a concern, he said.
“We’re looking at a couple of different scenarios,” Ige said. “The trouble for us is the novel coronavirus is spreading around the world, and we’re at different stages within the U.S. and around the world.”
There are no new business openings under the new emergency proclamation, though almost all businesses except for large venues and nightclubs were allowed to open under a previous order. Some county rules may be more strict than the state’s, however.
In addition, the latest proclamation extends the moratorium on evictions through July 31. Ige said child care agency operators will be allowed to maintain pre-COVID staffing levels.
The proclamation also continues the suspension of a number of state laws including the procurement code, the public records law, and Hawaii’s open meetings law. Others are also suspended to allow doctors to perform telehealth visits.
While Ige extended the quarantine, a Honolulu City Council committee took steps to prepare for opening to tourists when the governor allows it. The resolution passed out of the City Council’s Select Committee on Economic Assistance and Revitalization calls for the state to develop a scheme to conduct diagnostic viral testing of travelers coming to the state, and it generally parallels calls being made by others.
For example, a report published on Tuesday by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization calls for testing travelers before they come to Hawaii. Under the plan, the state’s 14-day quarantine would remain in place, but in-bound travelers who tested negative could leave quarantine early.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green, meanwhile, has said he’s working with a number of parties, including the giant CVS Pharmacy chain, to set up a system for testing passengers coming to Hawaii from the U.S. continent.
While many details need to be worked out, the council’s vote shows support coalescing for testing tourists as a way to open the industry safely: a move seen as critical to Hawaii’s economic recovery. The industry is the state’s largest private employer accounting for roughly one in six jobs, and getting the industry running again is crucial to restoring large numbers of the approximately 220,000 jobs estimated to have been wiped out of Hawaii’s pre-COVID workforce of about 650,000.
Underscoring the importance of testing visitors as a way to reopen safely, Mayor Kirk Caldwell made a rare appearance before the committee to testify in person in support of the resolution. While he said there was no magic solution, testing could significantly mitigate risks, he said.
Meanwhile, he said, Hawaii can’t remain closed to tourists.
“If we don’t open up for visitors,” he said, “we can’t really have the jobs that we need.”
Caldwell used the opportunity to articulate a long-term view for tourism, as well. One example involved telephone apps for tourists. For the short term, apps could be used to help conduct contact tracing to determine if a tourist came into contact with an infected person. Later, after a vaccine is created, the app could be used to help manage tourists better by gathering data on popular tourist sites vulnerable to over-crowding, Caldwell said.
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