Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is being sharply criticized today for suggesting in a televised interview Wednesday evening that Kauai or “some neighbor island” might be the best place to test out the re-launch of the state’s tourism industry as the risk of COVID-19 recedes.
That remark drew a rebuke from state Senate President Ron Kouchi, who ticked off a list of steps this morning the state still needs to take before the visitor industry can resume anything close to normal operations, including blanket testing of incoming tourists to ensure they are not infected.
“I want to be clear to Mayor Caldwell. Kauai does not appreciate being identified as a potential test case to go bring in the tourists so you can make better decisions on Oahu,” Kouchi said in an online interview this morning as part of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “COVID-19 Care Conversation” on Facebook with Yunji de Nies and Ryan Kalei Tsuji.
Kouchi was responding to comments Caldwell made during a Hawaii News Now interview Wednesday evening in which Caldwell suggested Kauai might be a logical place to begin to reopen tourism because it has had no new cases of the new coronavirus for five or six days.
“They could be perhaps the first island, or like Lanai, but Kauai does have a bigger visitor industry, what if you opened up to people going to hotels maybe on that island? You could start to loosen up a bit, and then how do you allow people to come into Kauai that are proven not to be positive, that are negative?” Caldwell said.
He continued: “There’s a chance that we could do that and use some neighbor island as a test case to see how it works best.”
But Kouchi, (D-Kauai-Niihau), bristled at the suggestion that his home district might be an appropriate “test case.”
“I was stunned when I heard him make the comment last night,” Kouchi said. “The people of Kauai do not appreciate being characterized that way, and Mayor (Derek) Kawakami has gone to extraordinary lengths, way beyond any other mayor or the governor in locking down the island of Kauai, and they have gotten the results that they have by great personal sacrifice, by staying at home, by living with a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, and then to tell us because we’ve done such a good job we should be first, I totally disagree with that.”
Caldwell said in a written statement today that when Hawaii does eventually open back up to tourism, “it will need to be done in a deliberate way, backed by science. I mentioned Kauai because I believe the people of Kauai deserve recognition for all of the sacrifices they’ve made, resulting in no new cases for a number of days on their island.”
“When we do open our islands back up to tourism, we will all need to work together to come up with a well thought out plan in which each of our counties share best practices, but not singling out any one island. In the end, we all learn from each other,” Caldwell said in his statement.
As of today, Oahu had recorded 389 COVID-19 cases, while Kauai has had 21, according to state health officials.