Residents and Lawmakers Decry Lack of 14-Day Quarantine Monitoring

April 9, 2020, 2:50 PM HST (Updated April 12, 2020, 3:21 PM)
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The normally rapid flow of travelers to Hawai‘i has dropped to a comparative trickle in the wake of the state’s 14-day, mandatory self-quarantine, enacted March 26.

However, there is growing concern that the self-quarantine order isn’t being observed or adequately enforced. A lack of enforcement ability has some state lawmakers and hundreds of residents calling for Hawaii’s empty hotels to be used as centralized monitored quarantine facilities.

“Most of them that are flying in, I’m quite certain that they’re not following quarantine,” said Major General Kenneth Hara, Incident Commander at the Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency.

Currently, all incoming arrivals are receiving temperature checks and self-quarantine instructions at the airport. Hotel employees are tasked with the job of making sure new arrivals stay in their rooms, and the state is supposed to monitor new arrivals via phone. The quarantine program is based on an honor system.

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Hara’s acknowledgment Wednesday during the Special Senate Committee on COVID-19 meeting that the quarantine honor system isn’t working has been supported by resident reports from the community.

Vaiva Winder, a Kona resident who flew home from New York on March 26, told Hawai‘i News Now that no one called her to make sure she was abiding by the quarantine mandate. Winder is one of several returning residents in recent weeks, most of whom are not staying in hotels where they can be monitored. Neither are visitors who are staying in vacation rentals.

When asked by lawmakers how quarantined individuals are being monitored, Hara stated that, “The only thing we’re doing is notifying the hotels, and hotel staff check.”

Asked how residences and vacation rentals are being checked, Hara said that when people are called, “…the calls don’t go to anywhere.”

A frustrated Sen. Sharon Moriwaki rebuked Hara and Ige for the fact that anyone is arriving by way of non-essential travel.

“Why are we still letting people in?” she asked. “It makes no sense. It’s like having a peeing section in a swimming pool!”

Despite statewide cries to stop visitors from flying in a petition signed by three of four county mayors and the Hawai‘i County Council requesting President Donald Trump implement a ban against all non-essential travel to the state, Governor David Ige hasn’t attempted to enforce such a restriction.

The governor has stated that such a move would be impossible to enforce, as the airlines cannot discriminate between who gets on a flight to Hawaii and who doesn’t.

“It’s a waste of time,” said Ige twice during Wednesday’s COVID-19 response briefing when questioned about why he would not sign the mayors’ request.

Families of returning residents who are trying to comply with the 14-day quarantine also face challenges.

Residents who are returning to large families in small homes, or who live with children and elderly to care for, are worried about possible exposure to COVID-19. To these families, the use of empty hotels for quarantine purposes appears to be an elegant and viable solution.

A petition calling for this move, which began circulating on April 5 and has garnered over 200 signatures, has come to the attention of Hawai‘i lawmakers. Sen. Mike Gabbard Thursday morning sent the contents of the petition, which includes a quarantine fee for incoming non-residents, to Hawai‘i Tourism Authority President and CEO Chris Tatum for review.

Tatum responded to Gabbard, stating that he “…believes HI-EMA is currently in the process of identifying potential hotels for dedicated isolation and quarantine purposes.”

Tatum has forwarded the petition to General Hara.

On Wednesday, Hawai‘i saw 654 new arrivals, which includes 239 returning residents, 160 visitors, and 73 intended new residents.

J.M. Buck
J.M. Buck has been a Hawai‘i news writer and columnist since 2003. She has extensive writing experience and has served the media industry in a variety of capacities, including news editor, investigative reporter, online publisher, columnist, web content writer, graphic designer and photographer. She has lived in the Hawaiian Islands for most of her life and is a graduate of University of Hawai‘i.

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