Tourism Return Delayed Again, as O‘ahu Reinstates Restrictions
Hawai‘i Gov. David Ige has delayed the return of free-flowing trans-Pacific travel to the state for the second time.
The governor made the announcement at a press conference Tuesday afternoon, saying his pre-travel testing program, which would allow people to earn quarantine exemptions with proof of a negative test within 72 hours of travel to Hawai‘i, was not feasible on its prior timeline.
“We had planned to begin the pre-travel testing program on Sept. 1,” Ige said. “We are delaying the start of … (that program). It will not begin until Oct. 1, at the earliest.”
Virus data will be analyzed to determine when it’s safe to implement the pre-travel testing program. It was initially targeted for Aug. 1, then pushed back to Sept. 1 as part of the first delay.
The governor added that the decision on the start date will be re-evaluated, then confirmed or delayed again, with enough time to allow the hotel and tourism industries to re-staff and prepare for the return of more visitors than the state has seen since travel quarantines were first enacted in late March.
Also on Tuesday, Ige and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced the return of significant restrictions on the island of O‘ahu.
More than 3,000 cases of the virus have been reported in Hawai‘i since Aug. 1, most of those identified in Honolulu County. More than 5,200 cases have been reported statewide since the Department of Health began tracking the coronavirus in late February. DOH also reported the state’s 41st coronavirus-related death earlier in the day Tuesday.
Caldwell said beginning at midnight on Wednesday, Aug. 19, no social gatherings of more than five people will be allowed indoors or outdoors anywhere in Honolulu County. Anyone who is able to work from home is asked to work from home as part of the new order. The restrictions will be in effect for at least 28 days.
The neighbor islands will continue on in the “Act With Care” phase of their reopening plans, Gov. Ige said, meaning there are no changes to current restrictions in any of those areas. The reasoning is simply that neighbor islands haven’t seen nearly the same kind of surge as O‘ahu has experienced.
Mayor Caldwell went on to say that between the choices of ” a scalpel or a hammer” to deal with the health crisis on O‘ahu, the state and county have chosen the scalpel, for now.
Bars, beaches, parks, and trails all remain closed there. Face coverings are required in all shopping malls, enclosed or otherwise, at all times. They are also required at all times inside places of worship, where no singing or playing of musical instruments will be allowed.
Restaurants, movie theaters, museums, and outdoor attractions like zoos will remain open, but groups are only allowed to congregate in numbers of five or less, down from the previous group total of 10. Retail, fitness centers, childcare, education, healthcare, real estate, and auto dealerships will all remain open.
All social gatherings in business offices on O‘ahu are prohibited. All common areas for eating are closed, other than an exemption that allows employees to go in and heat up food. The state and the county are asking businesses to reduce the number of employees in offices by encouraging telecommuting or implementing staggered work schedules.
DOH Health Director Bruce Anderson said one of the big problems is that people in Honolulu County attended gatherings, then attended work.
“That’s probably the worst thing you can do,” Anderson said.
He added that more than 100 contact-tracing staff are working on O‘ahu to investigate new cases. There are also contingents conducting contact-tracing on neighbor islands. The governor added that hospital capacity across the state continues to appear adequate for the current surge and its expected evolution.
The interisland travel quarantine for anyone arriving to a neighbor island remains in effect through the end of August. However, the governor said he’d be open to exploring how that could be modified to allow free-flowing travel between neighbor islands, say from the Big Island to Maui or Moloka‘i to Kaua‘i.
The issue, Ige said, is identifying which passengers are coming from which islands, and if where they’re traveling from is the same place in which they reside. The logistics, he said, would be very difficult to navigate.
While the governor said modifying the interisland travel quarantine would be a challenge, it is something he will consider if county mayors are interested.