Gov. David Ige said today that he expects to lift the quarantine for interisland passengers soon and is finalizing plans to reopen tourism.
Tourism statewide has nearly zeroed out following the March 26 start of a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for incoming passengers to Hawaii, which was extended to interisland travelers on April 1.
Before the quarantine about 30,000 passengers arrived in Hawaii daily. On Monday, only 259 out-of-state visitors came to Hawaii, making up about 25% of the 1,028 total incoming passengers, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Only 54 people who arrived had been granted exemptions to the mandatory quarantine, which currently runs through June 30.
Members of the visitor industry, including the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association, have pushed for the lifting of an interisland quarantine as part of a “pre-season” tourism reopening plan.
They want Ige and the four local mayors to lift the interisland passenger quarantine to allow kamaaina travel to resume in May or June. Hoteliers that take a risk and reopen for kamaaina travel are seeking assurances that if the process is successful the state would agree to lift the out-of-state passenger quarantine on July 1.
The visitor industry also has pushed Ige to set an advance reopening date for tourism. They say reopening will take four to six weeks, so they’ve argued that they need to know when to begin making plans. HLTA has developed a set of health and safety protocols for Hawaii’s lodging industry, which has been vetted by the state Department of Health and union and non-union hotels. However, it’s been challenged by Unite Here Local 5, the labor union representing the most Hawaii hotel workers statewide.
While the reopening of interisland tourism appears to be coming, Ige declined to provide guidance on a date.
“We are definitely looking at the health and safety of our community as the first priority and pushing people to do unreasonable or uncharacteristic activities really doesn’t serve anyone,” he said today during an afternoon press conference. “I do believe that we need to take the time necessary to ensure that we can do it in a way that doesn’t compromise or put in jeopardy the health and safety of our community.”
Ige said reopening interisland first “would allow us to test the system and identify any additional gaps prior to receiving visitors domestically across the country or internationally.”
The state Economist Eugene Tian’s latest forecast assumes tourism will restart in September. However, Ige declined even to confirm fall as a possibility.
“Certainly we are looking at the requirements and wanting to reopen as quickly as possible, ” he said. “We do know that once we start to reopen, we don’t want to have to step backwards and that’s why we want to make sure that the system and processes are in place that would capture any of the concerns shared on behalf of the county.”
Earlier today during a House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness, Carl Bonham, executive director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, acknowledged the complexities of developing a plan to restart tourism, but said time is of the essence.
“We can work on this for the next four weeks if we have to, but we can’t wait four months to start working on it,” Bonham said.
Bonham recommended further discussions about creating tourism bubbles to allow for more relaxed entry requirements for destinations like New Zealand and Australia that have low rates of COVID-19. He said developing a testing plan also needs to be part of dialogue.
Rep. Bob McDermott (R- Ewa, Ewa Beach, Ewa By Gentry, Iroquois Point) made a play for a plan at today’s House hearing for the plan that he developed with Rep. Gene Ward (R-Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley) called “Making Hawaii Safe for Travel.” The 23-page plan relies on COVID-19 testing to restart Hawaii’s visitor industry without creating a second wave of COVID-19.
McDermott believes the Abbot COVID-19 rapid testing machine could be used and will become more readily available and accurate in the next 30 to 90 days.
“We are going to knowingly import the virus without doing this. Temperatures and filling out guest forms is not enough. The quarantine is a voluntary honor system,” McDermott said. “We have 1 to 2 new cases a day. When we go from 1 to 500 cases in a week and then 1,500 where will we be at?,” McDermott said.
McDermott admitted that the “mechanics and implementation on the issue are a little muddled,” but said they could be worked out.
Rep. Richard Onishi (D-Hilo, Keaau, Kurtistown, Volcano) said, “I still think we are a ways off before coming to any kind of consensus on how this is going to be done.”
“We have to get over our fear of using tests as a screening device and use every means possible for screening so that we can begin to put people back to work later this summer and into the fall. If we wait four months, we’re in very deep trouble,” he said.
Watch video of Ige’s news conference above.