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9 visitors sent back to their home states under new coronavirus flight assistance program

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARDVERTISER.COM
                                Waikiki beaches were nearly empty Thursday, as many hotels have closed. The Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii’s program has assisted visitors back to their home states if they can’t follow the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine.

    BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARDVERTISER.COM

    Waikiki beaches were nearly empty Thursday, as many hotels have closed. The Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii’s program has assisted visitors back to their home states if they can’t follow the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Daniel K. Inouye International Airport was devoid of activity on Monday. Officials announced that travelers to Hawaii can now register online with the state’s mandatory quarantine program.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Daniel K. Inouye International Airport was devoid of activity on Monday. Officials announced that travelers to Hawaii can now register online with the state’s mandatory quarantine program.

The Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii has used its newly formed COVID-19 flight assistance program to send back nine travelers so far, including visitors from Denver and from Guam.

The program, which is funded with a grant from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, aims to ensure that travelers to Hawaii don’t stay here unless they have the resources to follow a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine. Visitors are required to bear all quarantine expenses, including lodging and food delivery.

Jessica Lani Rich, VASH president and CEO, said the nonprofit paid to send a Denver woman home Thursday after it discovered she had not made any plans to stay in a hotel to complete the quarantine.

“She said she was coming here because during COVID-19 flights were cheap and so were hotels,” Rich said. “It’s irresponsible for visitors to come to Hawaii now. If they haven’t made any plans to follow the quarantine, we’re sending them back. It’s our job to keep Hawaii safe.”

In another case, Rich said, VASH paid for half of the ticket back to Guam for a woman who had come to Hawaii for a medical appointment and ran out of money after completing her 14-day quarantine.

“She was grateful that we helped pay for her ticket back home,” Rich said.

Gov. David Ige on March 17 asked visitors to postpone their trips to Hawaii for 30 days and reschedule for another date. On March 26, Ige instituted a 14-day mandatory self-quarantine for all arriving trans-Pacific passengers to cut travel demand and protect Hawaii’s resources. He expanded the quarantine to interisland flights on April 1.

Ige announced Friday that travelers to Hawaii can now use the internet to register with the state’s mandatory quarantine program before arriving instead of filling out paper forms at a local airport upon arrival. The online portal at safetravels.hawaii.gov explains the 14-day quarantine program and allows travelers to register.

The state Department of Taxation along with the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism created the online system, which also allows travelers to report daily compliance with the quarantine order.

The system will not be able to use a traveler’s smartphone to verify compliance using location services. Tax Department Director Rona Suzuki said using smartphone location services presents civil liberty issues. However, the governor said there is some effort to look at a smartphone application that would allow location verification to ensure quarantine compliance.

Since the quarantine took effect, visitor numbers have dropped dramatically from historic levels — at this time last year they were averaging 30,000 a day. However, some are still coming.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported Friday that Thursday’s trans-Pacific passenger count was 663, including 107 visitors and 171 residents. The count also included 99 airline crew members, 241 transit passengers and 45 intended new residents for Oahu.

The new count of visitors was the same as Wednesday’s number. In comparison, 160 visitors came on Tuesday, 133 on Monday, 126 on Sunday, 106 on Saturday, 94 on April 3 and 89 on April 2.

Some 448 visitors, who flew into Hawaii on the first two days of a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine, have finished the process. If they are still in Hawaii, now they can have as much freedom as “nonessential worker” locals, which isn’t much.

There aren’t that many visitors in Hawaii, and many hotels have closed. However, some hotels are still taking business and leisure travelers and others are participating in the Hotels for Heroes program to house working health care workers and first responders who need respite.

Also Friday, Hawaii’s largest hotel labor union, Unite Here Local 5, said it supports hotels that have stayed open, but is urging them to adopt quarantine measures to ensure guest and worker safety.

The union put together new guidelines in a publication called, “Safe Hotels, Safe Hawaii,” 808ne.ws/­Safehotels.

“If these hotels aren’t Safe Hotels and don’t follow these health & safety guidelines, they won’t be safe for first responders, health care workers, or any guests who are sheltering at these hotels. This is a risk to these guests, hotel workers, and the broader community,” Eric Gill, Unite Here Local 5 financial secretary-treasurer, said in a statement.

Local 5 said its hotel employers have yet to respond to the recommendations, which union members support.

Maria Salantes, a housekeeper at the Hilton Hawaiian Village for 38 years, said she’s grateful to still have job. But she fears catching COVID-19.

“I am a proud grandmother and I want to do everything I can to keep my grandkids safe while still being able to provide for them financially. I will feel much safer at work if these guidelines are in place, and I call on the Hilton Hawaiian Village to become a ‘safe hotel,’ ” Salantes said in a statement.


Staff writer Andrew Gomes contributed to this story.


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