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Senate committee wants passenger quarantine improved and scaled up to accommodate rising visitors

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                A traveler from Los Angeles headed towards the parking lot across from Terminal 2 at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport on April 22.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    A traveler from Los Angeles headed towards the parking lot across from Terminal 2 at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport on April 22.

The Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 today criticized loopholes in the mandatory passenger quarantine and said they want them sealed before visitor counts to Hawaii begin rising again.

On March 26, Hawaii became the country’s first state to implement a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine order for incoming travelers, which was extended to interisland travelers on April 1.

When the system was launched, most compliance was left to the honor system, but Hawaii Tourism Authority and state Department of Transportation officials have made several improvements to the airport verification procedures for out-of-state passengers. They’ve also beefed up follow-up calls to include residents as well as visitors.

Hawaii Tourism Authority president and CEO Chris Tatum told the committee that the agency refers presumptive violators to local law enforcement or the Attorney General’s Office every day.

“We’re up to a little over 14,000 (follow-up) calls. Right now we’ve referred 330 people to law enforcement, 250 on Oahu, 20 on Maui, 11 on Kauai and 49 on Hawaii island,” Tatum said.

Ross Higashi, who oversees the Airports Division as deputy director of the state DOT, said “to date 27 visitors have been forced to leave Hawaii either because they didn’t have verifiable place of quarantine or they were violating the quarantine rules.”

Senator Donovan Dela Cruz (D-Mililani Mauka, Waipio Acres, Wheeler, Wahiawa, Whitmore Village, portion of Poamoho) said those statistics only prove that the system isn’t working.

He and other committee members plan to tour the airport Friday at 11:30 a.m. to evaluate current passenger entry, screening and verification procedures. They’ve also ordered DOT and HTA to come up with a plan by next week detailing what they need to improve quarantine compliance and enforcement. They said the plan also must include staffing estimates for how many more workers will be needed to keep the quarantine going as other states begin to open and more passengers start coming to Hawaii.

Dela Cruz also wants HTA and DOT to talk to the counties to develop standard operating procedures for enforcement of quarantine violators.

“There are still people that are getting through… they are leaving the hotel and then they are getting arrested several times. I know that administration likes to say, ‘Hey they got caught the thing is working’ … but that’s not going to work when you have 5,000 people, 10,000 people, 30,000 people flying in,” Dela Cruz said. “What I still cannot gather is why are people leaving the airport if their information is not accurately verified.”

The quarantine collapsed tourism to the point that, since its March start, only 4,472 visitors, which represent a mix of leisure and essential travelers, have come into the state. Wednesday’s higher visitor count brought the 34-day average of trans-Pacific visitors to about 128.

The quarantine is slated to end May 31; however, there’s an expectation that it could be extended.

“I would imagine if we are going to open up we’re just not going to let people come in. The self-quarantine is probably going to last for a while,” Dela Cruz. “We know it can be difficult. You guys had five weeks. The reality is that this is not going to go away anytime soon. You are going to have to come up with a plan that’s going to be scalable.”

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