In the state’s toughest measure yet in battling the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. David Ige on Saturday ordered residents and visitors returning to Hawaii to undergo a 14-day quarantine starting Thursday.
The mandate — a first of its kind in the nation — represents the final blow in temporarily sucking the life out of Hawaii’s tourism industry, the economic lifeblood of the state.
But Ige, who stood alongside travel and visitor industry leaders at a state Capitol news conference, insisted it was essential to safeguard the greater population.
“We need to come together as a community to fight this virus,” Ige declared. “We want this action to send the message to visitors and residents alike that we appreciate their love for Hawaii, but we are asking them to postpone their visit.”
The announcement came on the same day the state Department of Health reported the state’s tally of coronavirus cases jumped from 37 on Friday to 48 today — all but one travel- related and that one still under investigation.
In addition, the mayors of Maui and Kauai on Saturday announced new emergency social distancing measures aimed at limiting the coronavirus, including the closing of bars, nightclubs, theaters and tourist attractions.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he and the other county mayors met with the governor and business and community leaders Friday to discuss the next steps and the group found consensus.
“Sometimes there were differences in some of the details, but at the end of the day it’s about standing up together and protecting the people of the state of Hawaii,” Caldwell said.
Ige resisted calls to establish a lockdown or shelter-in-place order as suggested by scores of medical professionals, including more than 100 Hawaii doctors Saturday.
Aggressive testing in the state, including 2,200 completed tests, so far suggests that spreading of the disease within the community is not happening, he said.
“Certainly all measures are on the table,” the governor said. “But (shelter-in-place) really is appropriate when there is widespread community spread of the virus.”
Under the emergency order, returning residents will be required to quarantine in their homes and visitors at their hotels or rented lodging.
Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, director of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said all visitors and residents arriving through Hawaii’s airports will be required to complete a state Department of Agriculture form that will be distributed during their flight.
Upon arrival, passengers will go through a checkpoint and present the completed form with valid identification. Checkpoint staff will validate the form and issue documentation that certifies they cleared the checkpoint. The form also includes information on the mandatory requirements for the 14-day quarantine along with penalties.
Those under quarantine can leave their designated quarantine location only for medical emergencies or to seek medical care. Visitors are not allowed other than a physician, health care provider, or individual authorized to enter the designated quarantine location by the director of HIEMA.
Violation of the quarantine will be a misdemeanor and subject to a possible $5,000 fine and/or jail time. The counties will be responsible for enforcement.
The quarantine order will continue indefinitely, and Ige said visitors are responsible for quarantine costs.
“These actions are extreme, but they will help flatten the curve and lay the groundwork for a quicker recovery. We need everyone to comply with these quarantine orders to help protect Hawaii’s residents,” Ige said.
Enforcement of the law will be taken care of by police departments with help from the hotels, officials said.
Caldwell said enforcement shouldn’t be a problem because there won’t be that many tourists coming to Hawaii — especially after learning they’re going to have to spend two weeks in their hotel room. As for residents, Caldwell and Hara said it was their belief the people of Hawaii will want to comply.
“To date we haven’t had any issues with anyone who was asked to self-quarantine,” Hara said. “The aloha spirit — let’s not infect anyone else from our beautiful state. So we think most will comply.”
Elliot Mills, vice president of hotel operations of Disneyland Resort and Aulani in Ko Olina, which announced its closure starting Tuesday earlier in the day, said he supported the emergency measure.
“It’s important to take this bold step now so we can operate in good order, get our guests home safely and hopefully very soon get our guests back to the state to enjoy our islands,” Mills said.
Eric Gill of UNITE HERE Local 5 said thousands of hotel workers are laid off right now and they’re concerned about whether their medical coverage will continue and whether they will be able to keep their homes and cars and everything they’ve built.
“Their dreams are being clouded, and it is important as a community that we take any necessary action to keep this thing under control so we can get past it and our members can get back to work and get back to having a life,” Gill said.
Peter Ingram, CEO and president of Hawaiian Airlines, said his company will reduce its domestic and international schedule to “a bare-bones level” starting Wednesday. The neighbor island schedule will continue but at a reduced level.
Ingram added that Hawaiian is trying to avoid layoffs and furloughs but that may not be possible.
Meanwhile, more than 100 physicians predicted Saturday that as many as 3,000 cases of coronavirus will strike Hawaii by the end of the month.
In a letter to Ige and other government leaders, members of the Hawaii medical community said Maui County is already experiencing a shortage of medical supplies and especially patient ventilators as soon as the disease spreads.
The letter predicts between 1,000 and 3,000 COVID-19 cases in Hawaii by March 31.
“We implore you to issue a shelter-in-place order effective immediately,” the statement said.
“As members of the healthcare community in Hawaii, we feel that our concerns have been disregarded. It appears the officials elect to not interact with our professional community to listen to our recommendations. But when it comes to severe municipal transmission and a potential surge of COVID-19 cases, you will ask us to work overtime without proper (personal protective equipment) and put our own lives and the lives of our beloved family members at risk. We urgently ask you to listen to us and implement immediate measures to address this crisis. Everything we do now will have an impact on the course of the disease and could help to save many lives.”
Hara acknowledged that the state is running low on protective equipment such as masks. But he said there is currently enough equipment for 18 days with a shipment expected Monday and another emergency order that is expected to take care of another 30 days.
“Right now (for protective equipment) we think we’ll be fine,” Hara said.
On Maui, all county beach parks, offices and Waiehu Golf Course will be closed starting Monday.
On Kauai, all restaurants are being ordered to close unless they offer drive-through, pick up or delivery service. Visitors will also be required to obtain a day- usage permit for any county beach park.