U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the Department of Homeland Security exempted military members traveling on official orders to Hawaii from the state’s quarantine, but the command instituted its own “restriction of movement” — which means service members are prohibited from going out for 14 days except for “essential” trips such as to the grocery store, doctor or pharmacy.
Homeland Security, meanwhile, asked for the state to also exempt military family members moving on orders to Hawaii from the quarantine, officials said.
Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, incident commander for the state’s coronavirus response, said in a Friday memo that military members coming to Hawaii on official business were already considered “essential travel for critical infrastructure” and exempt and that he was adding family members arriving on “permanent change of station” orders to the exemption list.
The restriction of movement is mandatory for serv-ice members and advisory for family members, according to Indo-Pacific Command at Camp H.M. Smith.
It all adds up to something less than the requirements for arriving civilian residents and tourists who are mandated to stay in a dwelling for 14 days without going anywhere in the community.
Honolulu City Council member Kym Pine has a problem with that.
“I strongly believe that if residents of the state of Hawaii have rules imposed on them, then everybody should abide by the same rules,” she said Tuesday. “If special exemptions must be made, they should be made under strict guidelines to ensure the safety of every person that person comes in contact with. It should not be a blanket exemption.”
Whether the federal government makes certain exemptions or not, “we should vehemently fight against any unequal treatment,” Pine said.
Pine also raised questions about the military exemptions after Hara’s memo came out. “That it does not take into consideration where they are coming from, is extremely concerning, Pine said in a letter to Hara, the state adjutant general.
Despite repeated requests, the state’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center was unable to provide any comment about the policy, including whether it was tracking the number of arriving service members who didn’t have to quarantine.
Capt. Mike Kafka, a spokesman for U.S. Indo- Pacific Command, said that “protecting our personnel and our Hawaii ohana has remained our priority from the start.”
The restriction of movement, or ROM, “allows inbound service members and their families to transition safely and start their mission-essential work while respecting the state’s approach to protecting the community,” Kafka said.
Hara’s memo “requests” that family members abide by previous state stay-at-home guidelines that allowed minimal shopping and outings.
The military exemptions apply only to service members and their families arriving in Hawaii on official orders, including temporary duty. Indo-Pacific Command said if a service member or family member is traveling to Hawaii to see a relative or for any other nonofficial reason, the state 14-day quarantine rule applies.
How far into the federal system the exemptions extend also remains a bit unclear.
A March 31 memo from the state’s office of the director of emergency management noted that Gov. David Ige ordered all persons traveling to and between islands to self-quarantine.
“The governor expressly excepted from this mandatory self-quarantine persons performing functions necessary to maintain continuity of operations of the federal critical infrastructure sectors” as long as they submitted to thermal screening upon arrival and wore appropriate protective gear, the memo states.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency had one employee exempted from Hawaii’s quarantine who tested negative for COVID-19, said spokeswoman Veronica Verde. “All FEMA employees are tested before flying to Hawaii,” she said.
The exemption policies are in place in Hawaii as the Defense Department hopes to be able to relax a “stop movement” order related to COVID-19 so some of the delayed service member moves that most often occur in the spring and summer can resume.
The Pentagon last week said a “conditions-based approach” will be taken to reverse the delay that’s been in effect for most but not all service members since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Most service members were required to stop movement both domestically and internationally.
The Defense Department moves more than 400,000 service members, defense civilians and their families each year.