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As Hawaii visitor counts rise, officials weigh making residents complicit if their guests violate quarantine order

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                People cross Kalakaua Avenue fronting the International Marketplace today in Waikiki.

    JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    People cross Kalakaua Avenue fronting the International Marketplace today in Waikiki.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / APRIL 22
                                A passenger arriving from Los Angeles, who did not want to be identified, grabbed his bag at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / APRIL 22

    A passenger arriving from Los Angeles, who did not want to be identified, grabbed his bag at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

Hawaii residents, who are hosting visitors, may soon have to sign a document making them complicit if the visitor violates the state’s mandatory 14-day self-quarantine order.

That’s just one of the ideas that the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 is considering to close quarantine loopholes, state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D-Mililani Mauka, Wahiawa, Whitmore Village) said today. There’s also talk of expanding emergency orders to include a ban on Turo and similar businesses that allow online hosts to rent personal vehicles much like Airbnb allows hosts to rent their personal homes, Dela Cruz said.

“We want to give the public confidence in the system. If we don’t focus on getting the quarantine screening and verification right, it won’t create a climate where people will be interested in increasing the number of arrivals,” Dela Cruz said.

Right now, the passenger quarantine has another six weeks or so of running time. Dela Cruz said it will be up to the Governor to decide when to stop the quarantine. The Department of Health also has to feel comfortable with the decision, he said.

“Whatever guidelines they provide, I want to make sure that we are implementing it and enforcing it safely for the public good,” Dela Cruz said.

The quarantine, which was put in place for out-of-state passengers on March 26 and extended to interisland passengers on April 1, has dramatically dropped tourism to Hawaii. Before the quarantine about 30,000 passengers arrived in Hawaii daily. From March 26 to Friday, only 8,176 came.

But lawmakers are concerned that counts are going up and will likely go up more as more of Hawaii reopens, especially the beaches, which reopened today on Oahu.

On Friday, another 286 visitors arrived in Hawaii, according to today’s release from Hawaii Tourism Authority. That’s on par with last Monday, which until now was the peak day for visitor traffic since March 26 when 268 visitors marked the start of the incoming passenger quarantine.

Altogether, 996 trans-Pacific passengers arrived Friday including 333 residents. On the 19 flights that came, there also were 143 airline crew members, 103 transit passengers who are catching other flights, and 126 intended new residents for Oahu, four for Lihue, and one for Maui. Some 257 visitors traveled to Oahu and 13 went to Maui and 16 to Lihue.

The state defines visitors as everyone with an out-of-state ID who plans to leave Hawaii after a period of time. Intended residents are those with out-of-state IDs who say they plan to stay here. The intended residents category might include military personnel, college students, people moving to Hawaii to live with their families, and homeless individuals.

About 41% of the visitors who came to Hawaii by air on Friday and filled out an optional form said they were coming to visit friends and family. About 16% gave government or business as a reason for travel, while 8% said they were coming for vacation.

As many as 49% of the visitors that filled out the optional form indicated that they planned to stay with friends or family. About 11% said they planned to stay in a hotel and another 5% indicated that they would stay in a condominium. About 8% planned to stay in some sort of a vacation rental. About 3% planned to stay in a timeshare and .4% chose a hostel.

Making residents complicit for the behavior of their guests hasn’t been adopted yet. However, Dela Cruz said lawmakers are talking about using the Safe Travels app to have residents sign a form acknowledging that they are hosting guests during a quarantine. Hotels already have been cooperating with authorities to report quarantine violators, he said.

Dela Cruz said lawmakers also have allocated $36 million for a cutting-edge public health screening system that takes photographs of arriving passengers going through thermal scans at gates to reduce the risk of passengers spreading the new coronavirus as they pass through Hawaii’s airports.

“It’s my understanding that the very earliest that the pilot system could come would be the end of summer,” Dela Cruz said. “In the meantime, at least we could improve what we’re doing now.”

The Senate committee, which had been meeting with the state Attorney General, the state Department of Transportation, and the Hawaii Tourism Authority, also met recently with Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard and Honolulu Police Deputy Chief John McCarthy to discuss stepping up enforcement.

Next, Dela Cruz said that they plan to meet with Kathy Sokugawa, acting director of the city Department of Planning and Permitting, to work on enforcement at vacation rentals. Short-term rentals of under 30 days still aren’t considered essential businesses and aren’t allowed to operate under emergency orders.

Only 21 of the 286 visitors who arrived Friday indicated that they planned to stay in a vacation rental. As many as 125 said they planned to stay with family and friends.

Undoubtedly, some Hawaii residents are playing host. However, some visitors who say they are “staying with friends and family” might be skirting emergency orders. In the past some owners of illegal short-term rentals have thwarted zoning inspectors by instructing guests to say they were staying with friends and family.

“People seem hell bent on violating the quarantine, which is not good. We’re getting compliance from the hotels and rental car companies, but we want compliance from everybody,” Dela Cruz said. “The Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii has shared that people are really going out of their way to find loopholes.”

In the meantime, Dela Cruz said a new form, dubbed the “Donna Kim form” for state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D- Kapalama, Alewa, Kalihi Valley, Fort Shafter, Moanalua Gardens & Valley, portions of Halawa and Aiea), has been added to airport screening efforts.

“It’s already starting to close loopholes. Passengers have to provide confirmation of their return flight and indicate how many nights that they’ll be staying,” he said.

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