In the effort to fight the coronavirus, Hawaii’s 14-day quarantine for travelers has caused severe hardships. But it also has been brutally effective and — let’s face it — necessary: Reported cases of infection have dropped sharply, community spread appears minimal, and the state’s health care system has not been overwhelmed.
The evidence seems to bear out that most coronavirus cases were coming in from outside the islands — brought here by residents returning home from hot spots like Asia, Las Vegas or Seattle, or by tourists.
It’s also important to remember that the quarantine isn’t just aimed at tourists: Hawaii residents returning home or traveling interisland also must quarantine in their place of residence. Only a few exceptions, for medical reasons or essential work, are allowed.
So it’s understandable that Hawaii residents would react with dismay or anger at visitors who, after signing a legal document attesting to their knowledge of the requirements, try to skirt the quarantine and go to the beach, even posting their lawbreaking on social media. Harsh statements such as, “Go home! We don’t need you and we don’t want you!” populate online comment forums. Some residents even help track down scofflaws and report them to the police, who actively encourage such citizen participation.
And strict enforcement of the quarantine — with officers arresting, jailing and fining those who get caught — have drawn international attention.
In a recent cases, an 18-year-old Arizona woman was arrested in Laie by agents of the state Attorney General’s office, acting on information from a resident and with help from the state’s top tourism promoter, the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
“Hawaii isn’t messing around when it comes to enforcing tourist quarantines,” read a recent headline in The Washington Post.
It’s a jarring contrast to Hawaii’s image as a world-class tourism destination that welcomes visitors with warm aloha. Some locals resent the health risks to Hawaii caused by lawbreaking tourists, and rightfully try to keep these scofflaws out. But the vast majority of would-be visitors have stayed away, respecting the quarantine. And while some local residents are enjoying the slower pace, tens of thousands of others who work in the tourism industry are unemployed, quietly suffering from a crippling lack of income.
As one online commenter put it: “Let’s get tough with quarantine for a little more time. The visitors we want to welcome back, will be back. The visitors that are coming now just to thumb their noses to Hawaii’s people, we don’t want.”
Amen to that.