As Quarantine Kicks In, Hawai‘i Arrivals Plummet

March 26, 2020, 5:47 PM HST (Updated March 26, 2020, 5:51 PM)
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Over 1,600 people were screened at Kona’s first COVID-19 pop-up clinic on March 23, 2020. Submitted Photo

A 14-day quarantine of all visitors and returning residents to the state of Hawai‘i went into effect Thursday, coinciding with a drastic decline in passengers arriving by plane to the state.

Hawai‘i is the first state in the union to issue such an order, and Thursday was the first time in history a quarantine had been implemented in the islands.

“The process is actually going very well,” said Tim Sakahara, spokesperson for the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation, at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Sakahara said that only 59 flights were scheduled to arrive statewide when the day began, some of which were cancelled and didn’t make the trip.

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He added that multiple flights arrived at island airports with either one or zero passengers, many touching down with fewer than 10 people total onboard — the majority of whom were returning residents. Several of these flights were flown only for the purpose of moving planes from airport to airport and allowing for more island departures.

The busiest flight brought 54 people into the state, he continued, but 25 of them were layover passengers who never left Daniel K. Inouye Airport.

On Tuesday, March 24 — the last day for which complete data was available — there was an 87% dip in passenger arrivals statewide compared to the same date in 2019, said Gov. David Ige.

The total number of visitors on that day last year was around 30,000. Tuesday, it was just over 4,000 statewide.

“My directives are working,” Ige said. “We must try to stop visitors from coming to Hawai‘i in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Roughly 13,500 people came into Honolulu on March 24, 2019, while the total Tuesday was 2,430 passengers. Kaua‘i, which welcomed 2,500 people on that date last year, dealt with only 38 passengers Tuesday.

“Measures that have been put in place have been working,” Sakahara said. “People are not coming into the airports and visitors are cancelling their trips. We expect those numbers will continue to drop off.”

Ige noted the tens of thousands of workers currently unemployed due to a lack of tourism activity throughout the state. He said measures are being taken to look out for both individuals and businesses impacted by mandatory social distancing measures, noting a federal stimulus package of more than $2 trillion that made important strides on Capitol Hill Thursday.

Businesses still open and providing some or all of their services can be found by clicking on the Open for Business tab at the top of the Big Island Now homepage.

Quarantine monitoring

Lieutenant Gov. Josh Green was a notable addition to Thursday’s press conference, after several media reports this week painted a picture of Gov. Ige pushing Green out of the administration’s COVID-19 response team inner-circle.

PC: Lt. Josh Green’s Office

Ige thanked Green before introducing him, saying the lieutenant governor plays a “vital role” in the response to the global pandemic.

“We do owe our governor a thanks today,” Green said. “(Implementing the) quarantine was a bold move that’s absolutely going to save lives.”

Sakahara outlined the process of quarantine from when it begins in-flight until arrivals reach their quarantine destinations. Passengers on all incoming flights fill out their agricultural declaration form and take that to a state representative when they deplane who makes sure names and addresses match up.

Afterwards, sheets are scanned, processed and sent to the Hawai‘i Tourism Association, which can call hotels where people are staying and confirm that they’re abiding by the rules of the quarantine. Random phone calls can be made to ensure that a person is in his or her room.

After meeting with state representatives, arrivals are then given information about the quarantine and instructions on what do if they develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19 infection. They are then directed either to their homes or temporary places of residence, where they are mandated to remain indoors for a period of 14 days.

Ige said those in quarantine are allowed to take cabs or use ride share programs to get from the airport to their homes, hotels or the like. Individual arrivals are responsible for the cost of that transportation as well as the cost of their lodging.

Residents without recent travel histories are allowed some freedom to travel out of their homes for the purposes of exercise and to address essential needs, such as buying groceries and picking up prescriptions.

Those under quarantine based on travel do not have the same freedoms. They are expected to arrange the delivery of food and any other necessities to their places of quarantine. If they break the rules of quarantine, residents and visitors alike will be subject to fines of $5,000 and/or up to one year in prison — the same penalties for regular residents who don’t abide by the rules of the stay-at-home, work-at-home order in effect until April 30.

Reports out of O‘ahu say that as of Thursday evening, 70 people on that island had been cited for violating the stay-at-home order, while two others were arrested. The state’s first arrest under the order took place on Hawai‘i Island, which police reported earlier Thursday.

Reporters viewing the press conference questioned quarantine procedures at airports, following emerging details that airport and state employees greeting arrivals weren’t complying with appropriate social distancing measures.

“Quarantine is a brand new procedure,” Ige said. “I know that we’ll get better each and every day.”

“It’s easy to announce it, difficult to execute it.”

Statuses of testing, infection and resources

Hawai‘i reported 11 new cases of COVID-19 over the previous 24 hours, pushing the state’s total to 106. Those include two cases from the Grand Princess cruise ship. Both are residents of the state, Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson said Thursday.

Three of the new cases Thursday had no direct or indirect history of travel exposure and are still being investigated. The three cases are signs that community spread is occurring locally. However, the state’s sentinel community testing program, which samples random swabs from across all islands, has not yet produced a positive result. This indicates that community spread remains limited.

COVID-19 tests. Submitted photo

Roughly 5,000 tests have been completed statewide, said Anderson, adding this is a crucial time in the attempt to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

“This is the time that social distancing is going to make a difference,” Anderson said. “This is where you should take it … very, very seriously.”

Green said he’s spent the last two weeks visiting hospital facilities across all islands, adding that if and when Hawai‘i does get a surge of COVID-19 cases, staff will “be ready.”

His opinion is not shared by all healthcare professionals in the state, as evidenced by a nurse at Hilo Medical Center who told Big Island Now Wednesday she believes the hospital could become an epicenter for the spread of COVID-19 rather than a first-line defense against it.

The primary reason for her concerns centered around whether Hawai‘i has enough ventilators and personal protective equipment for those working on the frontlines of the pandemic. Green shared the same concern Thursday.

As of March 26, 2020, Green said the state has 18,000 surgical N95 masks, 3,800 face shields, 328 intensive care unit beds and between 431 and 560 ventilators, which would be necessary to keep alive patients dealing with the most serious cases of COVID-19. Green said 78 of the ventilators were in use at various hospitals on Wednesday.

Most ventilators and PPE are stored on O‘ahu, where the vast majority of state residents live and where the virus has been most prevalent. However, Green said supplies would be diverted to outer islands should circumstances demand it.

“We consider ourselves one state,” Green said.

DOH and healthcare centers provide the administration with updates every morning as to where COVID-19 impact is being felt the most. If the location was on a neighbor island, “We would move supplies to respond to that,” Green said.

The US Army Corps of Engineers has evaluated two sites on O‘ahu for transition to alternate care facilities should medical need exceed current hospital capacity, including the Exhibition Hall at the Hawai‘i Convention Center, with a square footage of 204,000 feet.

The state is also establishing a central location for healthcare workers to voice concerns. More information on the location will be published as it becomes available.

Max Dible
Max Dible is the News Director for both Big Island Now and Kauai Now. He also serves as News Director for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations. He formerly worked as a community reporter for West Hawai‘i Today in Kailua-Kona from 2016 to 2019. Before that, he was a sports editor, sports reporter, and radio talk show personality covering college athletics in Iowa. He's won several regional and national journalism awards, at both the collegiate and professional levels, for breaking news, long-form feature writing, and his work as a sports columnist.

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