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Pentagon OKs increased travel to Hawaii amid unclear rules

Hawaii is green — for an increase in military moves, the Pentagon said Monday.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper signed a memo May 22 moving to a conditions-based, phased approach to wide-scale personnel movement following a “stop movement” order. On Monday the Defense Department released a list of “green locations” for travel.

The “green” designation for Hawaii follows a recent state easing of 14-day quarantine conditions for military family members arriving on official orders. The same exemption already was in place for arriving military members.

With COVID-19 low in Hawaii, the military has been ramping up training. Punchbowl cemetery announced it is resuming military honors for burials as of today.

Hawaii, 37 other states and the District of Columbia “meet the conditions to lift travel restrictions, subject to the assessment of conditions at individual military installations within these areas,” the Defense Department said.

The criteria: removal of shelter-in-place orders or other travel restrictions, a 14-day downward trajectory of flu-like and COVID-19-like symptoms, and 14-day downward trajectory of new COVID-19 cases or positive tests.

Hawaii’s 14-day quarantine for returning nonmilitary civilian residents and tourists remains in place, however.

How the easing of military travel restrictions will immediately affect overall moves to and from Hawaii is still not clear. Bahrain, Belgium, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom also were added to the “green” list.

Hawaii already was seeing an uptick in arriving military personnel who were classified as exceptions to its general “stop movement” order. A total of 158 military members who are exempt from the state’s 14-day quarantine rule arrived Sunday, 220 on Saturday, 149 on Friday and 118 on Thursday, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority totals.

A total of 1,125 military members arrived in the first week of June. Another 1,191 came to Hawaii in the last two weeks of May. The transition of service members to Hawaii is normally much greater during spring and summer, officials said.

Some confusion exists at the airport over classification, according to the tourism authority.

“It all depends on what they tell the (Department of Transportation) screeners at the airport,” the authority said. “The military category is meant for military exempt personnel, but some military families end up in the military category, some in the ‘exempt’ (category and others in the) relocate-to-Hawaii or visitor category — again, depending on what they tell the screeners at the airport.”

Esper, the defense secretary, said in his May 22 memo, “While the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic still presents risk to DoD service members, civilians, and their families, improving conditions warrant a transition in our approach to domestic and overseas personnel travel to a conditions-based, phased approach to personnel movement and travel.”

Esper said stop movement applied to official travel, including temporary-duty travel; government-funded leave; and permanent-duty travel, including permanent change-of-station travel.

However, some military members continue to come to Hawaii as critical needs arise.

U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said last week that the Department of Homeland Security previously 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 prohib- ited from going out for 14 days except for “essential” trips such as to the grocery store, doctor or pharmacy.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, incident commander for the state’s coronavirus response, said in a recent 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.

A request was originally made by the Coast Guard “asking for relief” from the state quarantine for family members moving on official orders to the island, according to the state COVID-19 Joint Information Center.

Hara consulted with Indo-Pacific Command and the state attorney general, who confirmed that the emergency proclamation issued by the governor for a 14-day quarantine upon arrival does not apply to U.S. government members, the information center said.

“However, federal entities have taken measures to respect the orders of the state and to adopt policies consistent with the state’s emergency situation,” and Hara decided to add a family member exemption, the group said.

The military’s restriction of movement is mandatory for service members and advisory for family members, according to Indo- Pacific Command.

The lesser overall requirements for military members and their families drew criticism from Honolulu City Council member Kym Pine, who believes all incoming arrivals should follow the same coronavirus rules.

State Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz said individuals traveling to Hawaii to perform “critical infrastructure” work have to quarantine when not performing those functions.

“So you would think that instead of a full-on exemption (for the military), that it would be something more similar to that,” Dela Cruz said. He said, however, that he would defer to guidance from the state Health Department.

“The military community complies with their own requirements and regulations as they work to protect the nation,” the Health Department said in an email.

“Although the state and armed forces may have different requirements, our goals are the same. The DOH is confident our military partners will actively identify, monitor, control and contain any infectious disease that may affect their communities and others in Hawaii,” the state agency said.

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