Travelers Disembarking at KOA Dwindles
Only two visitors flew into Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole on April 2. The number of travelers has significantly decreased statewide since Gov. David Ige ordered a 14-day mandatory quarantine on all travelers due to the COVID-19 crisis.
It’s been just over a week since the statewide order was issued. As of Thursday, 383 individuals flew into the Kona Airport — 80 of them were travelers, four were intended residents, and the rest were residents and flight crews, according Hawai‘i Tourism Authority. Only two flights landed in Kona on April 1 and 2.
Despite the significantly diminished numbers in visitors, there is still concern that people are not abiding by the governor’s 14-day mandatory quarantine. Joe Webster, owner of Big Island Jeep Rental, said he received calls for vehicle rentals for a few days after the mandate took effect, however the calls have since dissipated.
“The safety and health of the island is top priority,” Webster said. “I’m not renting any vehicles out until after at least May 1, but probably longer.”
Webster grew concerned about visitors not following the mandatory quarantine after being contacted by someone who arrived on March 26, looking for a jeep.
Webster explained to them they were not operating at the moment as a statewide 14-day quarantine order was in effect to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They (visitors) were specifically told to self quarantine,” Webster said.
Webster also explained the state’s stay-at-home mandate, to which the visitors replied their home state of Illinois was also on lockdown. “So we came here,” Webster recalled them saying.
“Some people are just using Hawai‘i as a way to get away,” he added.
Webster said there doesn’t seem to be any reporting mechanism in place. He called the Hawai‘i County Civil Defense Agency hotline, where he was advised to call the Hawai‘i State Department of Health, where he also found no answers.
Webster also reached out to the police and was told: “they (visitors) are just calling around for a rental car and not actively breaking the law, so there’s nothing we can do.”
Webster feels some people aren’t taking this seriously and there doesn’t seem to be any kind of enforcement if people are caught violating the state’s lockdown mandate.
“The real solution is simply don’t let visitors and tourists to come to the island,” Webster said. “The governor is just relying on the honor system.”
During the first week of the stay-at-home mandate from March 25-31, nine arrests were made, six people were cited and three criminal cases were launched against three individuals for violating Ige’s order. Two of the investigations were filed against visitors.
According to Hawai‘i Police Department, the couple got their rental vehicle stuck crossing over private property in Ka‘ū. Police responded to the incident as a reported trespassing and a case was made against each of them.
“The remainder of the violators were all local residents,” police say.
The governor has also ordered a 14-day mandatory quarantine for all inter-island travel. The order went into effect April 2.
HPD’s Area II Assistant Chief Robert Wagner said if the public wants to report someone not complying with the mandate, they can call police dispatch at 808-935-3311.
“Order clearly requires voluntary compliance to work,” Wagner said. I would imagine many people driving around are not complying with the order — officers cannot stop vehicles without a reasonable suspicion, which basically means we cannot simply stop any car and ask them where they are going.”
Wagner said police have started a daily log of arrests related to the order that is given to the media.
If police get a call about non-compliance, which includes in parks, officers respond when they are available. At this point, Wagner said, they are not keeping stats on these calls.
“We have our normal beach sweeps that we do, which checks for park hour violations as well as violations of the governor’s order,” he said. “No citations issued yet as those violators are usually the homeless as that is sort of where they live.”
There are more beaches in Kona than officers working a shift in Kona. And a regular shift finds officers tied up daily prior to this order.
Wagner said officers have put extra attention to business areas that are closed due to the obvious opportunity for break-ins.
Things change on a daily basis. Wagner added the department is also shorthanded with officers and staff not working due to returning to work from mainland trips.
Officers are also putting in a higher rate of overtime as a result to this crisis.