Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Hara Says Plan to Limit Visitor Lodging Options Under Discussion

April 13, 2020, 6:17 PM HST
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The state can’t stop visitors from boarding planes bound for Hawai‘i, but it might be able to restrict lodging options for them once they arrive.

Gov. David Ige, the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority and Major General Kenneth Hara, director of the Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency, have come under pressure in recent weeks to dry the last trickles of tourism and cut off all incoming visitors to the state.

Hara, on Monday, told the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness that the Federal Aviation Administration has said it’s illegal to restrict interstate travel in the US. Even if it could be done, the FAA would have no way to enforce it.

However, Hara said his office is working with the Hawai‘i Office of the Attorney General toward an end-around to the problem. Hara didn’t offer much in the way of details beyond saying that if the state can make sure visitors have nowhere to stay, it won’t matter if they’re allowed to fly to Hawai‘i or not.

How that would work and the legal implications of such an initiative remain unclear, as no plan has been released and legalities would be tied to specific details within.

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Hawai‘i County Mayor Harry Kim recently ordered all vacation rentals, timeshares and bed & breakfasts to cease operations through April 30.

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But at a state level, hotels/resorts are considered to serve some essential functions and may remain open. Several are donating rooms to house healthcare workers fearful of spreading COVID-19 to their children, while others are offering shelter to high-risk homeless individuals. Most have already sidelined employees as their revenues plummet amid lockdown orders.

The state will never be able to close its borders completely, though arrivals are down between 98% and 99% year-over-year since Ige’s travel quarantine went into effect in late March.

On Easter Sunday, 543 people arrived at Hawai‘i airports, including 91 visitors and 132 residents. The following table does not include interisland travel.

HAWAII PASSENGER ARRIVALS BY AIR, APRIL 12, 2020

  Kona Maui O‘ahu Līhu‘e

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Total
Crew 6 6 110 3 125
Intended New Resident 2   22   24
Resident 16 4 112   132
Transit     171   171
Visitor 5 1 85   91
Grand Total 29 11 599 3 543
Flights 1 1 11 1 14

The state continues to consider ways to enforce the quarantine for travelers arriving in Hawai‘i, and all returning residents and visitors are now required to register on safetravels.hawaii.gov.

The website, meant to track arrivals, will put to work currently furloughed state employees, Hara said Monday. Others will be sent to the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR) to help manage unemployment benefits and to HIEMA to handle emergency response efforts.

Hara added that he continues to fear complacency among the community in regards to lockdown orders. The more visitors there are in Hawai‘i, the more difficult social distancing becomes.

“There are still a lot of people out there not following the stay-at-home order,” Hara told the committee. “Those few who do not follow could create a huge influx and spike (in positive cases).”

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