County Council Joins Support in Ban of Non-Essential Travel to Hawai‘i

April 9, 2020, 6:00 AM HST (Updated April 9, 2020, 5:57 AM)
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The Hawai‘i County Council joined other county mayors in the fight to end non-essential travel to the Hawaiian Islands in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

During the council meeting Wednesday, all council members co-introduced a resolution urging President Donald Trump to issue a ban on all non-essential travel to the Big Island until April 30.

This resolution comes after Honolulu County Mayor Kirk Caldwell submitted a letter to the president on April 1, requesting the same restriction. Kaua‘i County Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami and Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino co-signed Caldwell’s letter.

Caldwell’s letter includes an exemption for healthcare workers, financial services and food supply.

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While Mayor Harry Kim didn’t join on Caldwell’s letter, the council felt it was important to also be a part of the effort.

“I know how united the council has been in flattening the curve at all costs,” said Council Chairman Aaron Chung. “We needed to show at least some kind of unity with other counties.”

Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter, District 1, said the island’s recovery shouldn’t be based on tourism.

“We don’t need to plan for tourism — we got to be smarter,” Poindexter said. “We got to be dependent on each other.”

The resolution passed unanimously.

Council members also moved three resolutions, not on the agenda, to the floor. The first was to halt evictions for businesses.

Introduced by Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, District 5, he said he would not have pushed so hard for the measure if he didn’t think it was urgent.

While Gov. David Ige did put a halt on residential evictions, Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said he failed to hear if this would extend to businesses as well.

Thousands of businesses on across the state were forced to closed because of the pandemic. Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said he was told the governor’s announcement to halt evictions doesn’t apply to the commercial sector.

“These businesses are being mandated to close and it doesn’t go beyond that,” he said. “The business community is dying and we need support. The state needs to recognize what is happening.”

The sacrifice, the councilman added, is not being shared across the different sectors.

During an update to the council, Sen. Brian Schatz explained the federal government will be releasing relief funds for small businesses. Business owners can apply for SBA loans.

“I think we heard from Sen. Schatz this morning that there is a lot of money, but it’s just not going to get to them (businesses) fast enough,” said Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, District 4.

Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, District 3, introduced the second resolution not on the agenda. It addressed the suspension of residential evictions.

“At the end of the day, we are in uncharted waters,” Lee Loy said. “With the emergency proclamation to stay in their homes, we need to keep people in their homes.”

Kierkiewicz introduced the third resolution, which would award funds to the Food Basket to support its pandemic response. The money would go toward funding an additional position as the organization continues to feed families during this crisis.

The resolutions passed unanimously.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.

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