Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Hawai´i County Asks Governor to Reinstate Pre-Travel Testing For All

By Max Dible
August 19, 2021, 3:11 PM HST
* Updated August 20, 9:29 AM
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Hawai´i County Mayor Mitch Roth.

Hawai´i County Mayor Mitch Roth has petitioned Governor David Ige to reinstate pre-travel testing for every visitor arriving in the Hawaiian Islands.

The Roth administration sent an official request in the form of a letter to the state on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. It urged the governor to adjust Hawai´i’s Safe Travels Program to include mandatory testing for all trans-Pacific airline passengers, including those who are residents of the state as well as those who can prove they have been fully vaccinated.

“The consistent rise of COVID-19 cases within the State of Hawai´i and across the country has reached record heights and has put an unbearable strain on our health systems and communities at-large,” the letter said. “On Hawaiʻi Island alone, our hospitals are at capacity and are unable to in-take any more critical care patients.”

Scientific evidence has shown that while most vaccinated individuals will be protected against serious illness, hospitalization and death if they become infected with COVID-19, it remains possible for the inoculated to carry and spread the illness within the community. This is especially true when concerning the Delta variant, which is highly transmissible and has been shown to cause more severe outcomes in those who end up symptomatic.

While the governor’s office recently reinstated social gathering mandates — which limit indoor groups to 10 individuals and outdoor groups to 25, and also roll back restaurant and bar capacity to 50% — Ige has been resistant to take any further steps such as mandatory lockdowns, the abandonment of in-person learning and enhanced travel requirements.

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As of Thursday, all public schools across Hawai´i remain committed to in-person learning, despite strong opposition from the teacher’s union. Vaccinated travelers may also visit Hawai´i without receiving a pre-travel test.

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More than 6,000 cases of the virus have been identified on the Big Island since the State Department of Health (DOH) began tracking infections last year. As of Thursday, the Big Island’s two-week average was 118 new cases daily. Statewide that tally is 713 new cases daily, which health experts expect is vastly underreported, accompanied by a dangerously high test positivity rate of 7.6%.

“With limited hospital capacity, our county will be taking drastic measures to slow the spread of the virus in a broader effort to keep our residents healthy and safe while eliminating some of the mounting pressures on our medical providers and facilities,” Roth’s letter continued. “However, we cannot do this alone and will rely on the support of the state to mitigate travel-related spread while we work to reduce community spread by whatever means necessary.

One step the Roth administration has already taken is to postpone the IRONMAN World Championship from its set date of Oct. 9, 2021, until Feb. 5, 2022. It is the second consecutive year the sport’s premier triathlon will not be run as scheduled.

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Last year’s event was first postponed and then eventually cancelled, while this year’s has only been postponed. Should public health conditions allow, IRONMAN would run two World Championship races in Kailua-Kona in 2022, the first in February and the second as normally scheduled in October.

Roth has also said that the Big Island is considering closing down county parks and beaches to stop people from congregating at those settings in large groups, potentially raising the risk of COVID-19 spread. The mayor mentioned the possibility publicly for the first time while speaking at a Hawai´i County Council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 17.

“Our administration has been working tirelessly to slow the rampant spread of COVID in our community. But, unfortunately, with the numbers continuing in an upward trend, we believe it’s necessary to curb community spread as best as possible, which may include the closure of all county-run parks, which act as common gathering areas for our residents,” a statement from the Mayor’s Office said. “We understand that this is an unpopular decision, but one that may need to be done in order for us to alleviate the mounting pressures on our medical system, which is currently at capacity.”

Max Dible
Max Dible is the News Director for both Big Island Now and Kauai Now. He also serves as News Director for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations.
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