Gov. David Ige today extended the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for out-of-state passengers to July 31.
Ige said last week that he would make an announcement this week about a future date to reopen tourism on a broader scale. The trans-Pacific quarantine,which took effect March 26, effectively collapsed tourism.
Some 4,564 visitors traveled to Hawaii last month, according to HTA preliminary statistics. That’s a 99.5% drop compared with a year ago when 856,250 visitors came by air and cruise ship. On Tuesday, 497 visitors were among the 1,626 passengers that flew into Hawaii on 16 flights.
Visitor counts have waxed and waned since the start of the quarantine, but have been increasing some as other places around the world reopen and some state and county lockdowns are lifted for Hawaii’s iconic beaches and other attractions. Daily visitor counts have topped 400 every day since June 1, when Gov. David Ige announced a plan to end the insterisland travel quarantine on June 16.
So far, Ige hasn’t hinted at a date to lift the trans-Pacific flight quarantine. However his announcement today confirmed to even the most optimistic of the state’s visitor industry members that they’ll need to draw back from some of their burgeoning reopening plans.
While some in the industry have speculated Ige could lift the trans-Pacific quarantine as early as July 15, others have said that date could be pushed back due to caution over how the widespread anti-racism protests across the U.S. could impact the spread of COVID-19.
Finding a balance is complicated. Hawaii’s geographical isolation and passenger quarantines have made it one of the least impacted by COVID-19 cases and deaths. However, some fear that reopening tourism will lead to a second wave of infections.
Opinions vary on whether new safety protocols and proper hygiene practices are enough to reopen Hawaii tourism safely or if some combination of testing, contact tracing, thermal screening and tourism lockdowns must be included.
Ige indicated today that safely reopening trans-Pacific travel to Hawaii would likely require a combination of testing, screening and tracing. The administration is working with the state Department of Health, the state Department of Transportation, and the University of Hawaii to put a system in place to reopen out-of-state travel to Hawaii.
“The challenge here in the islands is the new novel coronavirus is spreading around the world and we are at different stages within the United States and most importantly all around the world,” Ige said.
Ige said the state is monitoring infections in key domestic visitor source markets from the U.S. West, such as California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona.
“All of these Western states are now seeing spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases,” he said. “We will be working through and finding solutions that allows us to bring travelers from out-of-state back to the state of Hawaii in a safe and secure manner.”
Ige advised people to stay tuned for details on when the state will restore trans-Pacific travel to the islands.
“We know that we need to create a new process of travel that is multi-faceted,” he said. “We aren’t going to be counting on a specific component, but a system of layered screening that will allow us to reduce the risk and keep our community safe.”
Reopening interisland travel is less complicated as Hawaii is among the states with the lowest infection rates in the country and the islands have similar rates of coronavirus and COVID-19 deaths.
State Attorney General Clare Connors said a new health screening program will roll out by June 16, which marks the end of the state’s interisland quarantine.
“This is our very first step in doing something other than a travel quarantine,” Connors said.
Starting June 16, Connors said interisland passengers will fill out a new mandatory travel and heath form, which can be filled out online. They’ll also be part of a screening process where they will have their temperatures checked and are asked questions about their health.
“Based on what happens during that screening process, they may be offered a COVID-19 test,” she said. “If they have a temperature above 100.4 they will not be flying that that day. But once they’ve cleared that process, they will be allowed to go through TSA and continue on their travels.”
Connors said the state will use the new interisland travel requirements to test out a system that will have near and longer-term implications as the state moves to safely reopen trans-Pacific and other types of travel.
“It’s an important building block as we are looking towards how this will move us through the future as it will move us through a time when we will no longer need a travel quarantine,” Connors said.
Tim Sakahara, state DOT spokesman, said beginning next week the state will participate in a pilot program with five companies that will install thermal screening and facial recognition cameras at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.
Upon the pilot’s June 26 conclusion, Sakahara said the companies would submit cost and final proposals to the state, which would work to select one of the companies within the week. The passenger verification process would be extended to Kahului, Kona, Hilo and Lihue.
DOT aims to have thermal scanners at gates accepting arriving trans-Pacific flights statewide by mid July, Sakahara said. Thermal scanners who be installed at all gates by July 31, he said. Facial recognition equipment would be installed by Dec. 31.
Sakahara said last June 35,000 passengers arrived into the state every single day.Passenger levels are still far below normal levels, but Sakahara said DOT is making logistical changes in anticipation that they will rise with the reopening of tourism. Beginning June 16, Sakahara said all arriving trans-Pacific flights will use the C and G gate, while all departing trans-Pacific flights will use the E gate. Gate B will reopen for interisland flights, he said.
Arriving passengers will continue to have their temperatures checked by the Hawaii National Guard, Sakahara said. Then, they will be funneled through a line toward the end of the concourse to have their travel verification checked and to sign the mandatory self-quarantine order.
Gov. David Ige this afternoon made official the removal of the 14-day quarantine for interisland travel starting June 16 but said the two-week quarantine for trans-Pacific travelers has been extended through July 31.
Ige, who signed a ninth COVID-19 emergency proclamation, said there will be new procedures in place for interisland travel, including a thermal screening before departure, starting June 16. People with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will not be allowed to board planes.
He warned interisland passengers to arrive early and be prepared to fill out a new form.
“The state is ready,” Ige said.
But not ready to allow people in from outside the state without a two-week quarantine. Ige said the state is still studying procedures and methods for allowing this to happen safely.
In addition, allowing interisland passengers will serve as a test-run for how to allow trans-Pacific travelers, he said.
Also, to a question about Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Director Scott Murakami being on leave, Ige said he ordered Murakami to take some time off because he was under “tremendous stress.”
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