Hawaii’s thousands of empty hotel rooms should be used for state efforts to stamp out the spread of the coronavirus, according to a new report from the University of Hawaii.

The report from UH Manoa’s Public Policy Center also recommends the state make a better push for folks to practice physical distancing, increase testing for COVID-19 and beef up contact tracing efforts.

Waikiki Beach and Hotels and Manoa Koolau Mountains. Right, Ala Wai Golf Course aerial 0421
The state’s empty hotel rooms could be used for a variety of COVID-19 related measures. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

“Instead of following the overly cautious recommendations of U.S. authorities, Hawai‘i should emulate regional governments like South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and New Zealand, which have at least initially contained the virus through aggressive public health responses,” the report, written by UH professors Robert Perkinson, Seiji Yamada and Colin Moore, says.

The hotel rooms could be effective in monitoring or sequestering certain parts of the population.

They could be used to enforce the 14-day travel quarantines that have mostly relied on an honor system. The state could create a plan to monitor those travelers and require them to stay in a hotel at their expense.

Alternatively, the hotel rooms could be rented by the state to provide housing for at risk patients in healthcare facilities, or for persons without homes to shelter in.

Perkinson, whose background is in criminal justice, said the hotel rooms could be used for certain inmate populations as well.

“Elderly, sick inmates who are released on compassionate grounds, certain homeless families. Chicago is using hotels as emergency homeless shelters. We’re not doing any of that,” he said. “It’s really kind of shocking that we’re not deploying one of the key infrastructural advantages that we have.”

Civil Beat Reporter Eleni Gill contributed to this story.

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