Gov. David Ige is lifting the 14-day interisland travel quarantine for Hawaii residents on June 16 to allow families to “reconnect with one another” and restore the local economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Hawaii began June with no new confirmed coronavirus cases in the islands. The statewide infection count remains at 652, with 95.7% released from isolation. The state has also not had any COVID-19-related fatalities for four weeks and 17 coronavirus deaths since the outbreak, the lowest mortality in the nation.
“This is an important step to reopening our kama’aina economy,” Ige said at his daily COVID-19 briefing, adding that he would announce a target date next week on when trans-Pacific travel can resume. “We want to be mindful of the notion that other communities have reopened their economies too quickly and have seen second spikes and increasing outbreaks.”
Interisland travelers, however, will be required to undergo health screenings and temperature scans at local airports and complete additional paperwork on travel history, residence, and where they will be staying on island to make sure that “no one has traveled to out of state and visited any of the other communities where the virus has actively been circulated,” he said on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s COVID-19 Care Conversation. The 14-day mandatory quarantine remains for all mainland and international visitors.
On reopening trans-Pacific travel, Ige said authorities will focus on communities with low virus incidence, including New Zealand and Australia “as first candidates that we would be interested in,” and “obviously from an economic perspective, Japan and South Korea.”
“We do want to recover and reopen our economy and we will be bringing more visitors into the islands in a very measured way,” he said. “We have to live with COVID-19 and it’s a very infectious and a very deadly disease. Going forward we need to take personal responsibility and manage our interactions with other people. Unless we maintain discipline, it won’t take very much to see a spike in cases in the islands.”
Hawaii’s currently low number of cases and adequate health care resources — including intensive care unit beds and ventilators — along with expanded testing and contract tracing capabilities means it can now focus on economic activity even if there’s a spike in cases.
“We don’t want people to be afraid because as we open up the state please do expect that there may very well be slight increases in the number of individuals that have COVID-19,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green, adding that personal hygiene, including frequent hand washing, wearing masks and social distancing, are critical to keeping virus numbers low. “People should not be nervous if the numbers tip up a little bit. Obviously there are going to be a few more cases once we not only have interisland travel, but also when mainland travel resumes. We’ll keep monitoring this constantly so that we’re safe.”
Hawaii’s achievement in “crushing” the curve has come with great personal and financial sacrifice, Senate President Ronald Kouchi said at the briefing.
“We are still very concerned that everything we do takes into consideration the health of each resident of this state first and foremost,” he said. “The inability of our ohana and our family to see each other for almost four months now has put incredible personal strain on each and every one of us in this shared sacrifice. I’m hopeful we are going to do this in a safe way. Nothing is more powerful in healing than the power of the love and support of your family.”
House Speaker Scott Saiki added that officials are reopening the economy with “a lot of trepidation because we realize the general public predominantly is concerned with public health and safety.”
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said this is a good first step in reopening travel on a larger scale and to “thaw out additional parts of our economy.”
Peter Ingram, president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines, is hopeful that interisland travelers flying freely without restrictions will increase demand and fill the mostly empty planes. Hawaiian has 20 daily round-trip flights between Honolulu and Lihue, Kona, Hilo and Kahului that are just 20% to 30% full. The airline previously ran 180 flights per day between islands.
“I don’t think we’ll get up near that very soon because there’s some demand that’s just not going to be there,” he said. “There’s still going to be some anxiety for people around traveling and certainly people’s pocket books are hurting a little bit.”
Meanwhile, the state’s efforts to reopen tourism could be stymied by civil unrest across the nation as protestors gather in close proximity, potentially reigniting COVID-19, Alan Oshima, former Hawaiian Electric Co. president and CEO who is leading the state’s economic recovery, told lawmakers in the House COVID-19 Committee.
“One thing that bothers me now is what’s happening in the nation in terms of civil unrest … because of perhaps the effect that it might have on great results in flattening curves from some of our biggest tourism markets,” he said. “All of those things have to be considered by the governor and those around him, as well as the counties, on how aggressive we can or cannot be in reopening.”
“This is absolutely no comment on the righteousness of the cause. It was predicted there would be a decline with everybody having orders to stay at home … and all of a sudden this has exploded,” Oshima added. “It’s not just about what we do in Hawaii. We have to look at what’s happening elsewhere because it’s a global pandemic.”