Eight Hawaiian Airlines flight attendants and a Hawaii State Hospital contractor are among the new COVID-19 cases the state is grappling with as officials begin the monthlong push to reopen Hawaii tourism.
On Thursday, state Department of Health officials reported 20 new coronavirus cases, bringing the statewide number of infections to 946. Thursday’s new cases include 17 on Oahu and three on Hawaii island, according to the department.
Hawaii had 182 active infections as of Thursday.
The new cases come as the state prepares to reopen out-of-state travel, which has been tightly locked down since March 26, when a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for out-of-state passengers was implemented.
Gov. David Ige announced last week that starting Aug. 1, the state would allow passengers with approved negative COVID-19 tests taken within 72 hours of their Hawaii trip to bypass the quarantine requirement. The quarantine on trans-Pacific arrivals runs through July 31 and is expected to be extended for those who don’t get tested before flying.
Some members of the community, especially the visitor industry, hope that safe travel can resume promptly so the state can begin to heal from the dire economic consequences of halting tourism.
But the easing of quarantine restrictions has left some Hawaii residents and lawmakers anxious about the possibility a second wave of coronavirus cases will come with the broader reopening of travel. They noted Wednesday’s news that California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a new halt to indoor dining, bars and movie theaters in a bid to slow the resurgence of COVID-19 across the state.
That’s a reminder of the intricacies of reopening tourism for those hoping safe travel to Hawaii can resume.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported Monday that visitor arrivals by air in May fell 99% to 9,116 visitors, as compared with May 2019, when 841,376 arrivals came to Hawaii by air and cruise ship. Cruise ships haven’t returned to Hawaii since stopping service in the pandemic’s early days.
The eight Hawaiian Airlines flight attendants tested positive this week for the new coronavirus after feeling ill after attending a training at the carrier’s Honolulu headquarters.
Hawaiian spokesman Alex Da Silva confirmed Thursday that among the infected were two trainers and six flight attendants who were undergoing training.
“We are supporting our team members in their recovery, helping contact anyone who may have been at risk of exposure, and reinforcing our office protocols to keep our employees safe,” Da Silva said.
He said the infection’s source is still being investigated.
“Only one flight attendant worked one flight last week, prior to developing symptoms. We have provided information about each case to public health agencies to support any notification they deem necessary,” he said.
DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the department was informed Monday about the Hawaii State Hospital contractor’s positive COVID-19 test. Okubo said the contractor wore a face mask at all times while working at the hospital and had minimal direct contact with patients and staff.
There are not any other positive cases related to the case at this time, she said.
“The contracted employee is not currently working at the hospital and is isolating at home,” Okubo said. “As a follow-up protocol, the Department of Health’s Disease Outbreak and Control Division is conducting contact tracing.”
She said the department notified people who were in contact with the contractor and are interviewing them.
“These individuals are being advised to self-monitor for any symptoms, take their temperature twice a day and exercise other precautionary safeguards,” Okubo said.
Even though Hawaii isn’t coronavirus-free and the onerous out-of-state passenger quarantine has not been lifted, there are signs some visitors are champing at the bit to come to the islands. The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported Thursday that some 754 visitors were among the 2,424 passengers who arrived Wednesday on 24 flights. The visitor count was the highest since COVID-19 tourism lockdowns began about 14 weeks ago.
Visitor arrivals have been increasing over the summer and especially into the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Still, visitor traffic is way below what it was at this time last year, when an average of 35,000 passengers a day flew into Hawaii’s airports.
Many more details must be worked out in advance of the Aug. 1 tourism reopening. Even so, Hawaiian and Southwest airlines have begun adding flights back into the market.
Southwest announced in mid-June that it would restore its interisland and mainland service in Hawaii to pre-COVID levels on Aug. 1, along with the launch of its San Diego-to-Honolulu service.
Hawaiian said it will begin once-daily service between Honolulu and Portland, Ore., on Wednesday and add once-daily service to San Diego and Sacramento, Calif., on July 15.
Effective Aug. 1, the carrier plans to reinstate nonstop service to Honolulu from six mainland cities: Boston, New York, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and San Jose and Oakland, Calif. Hawaiian said it also plans to resume some West Coast-to-neighbor island routes with its narrow-body Airbus A321neo aircraft, including service from Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento to Kahului; Los Angeles and Oakland to Lihue; and Los Angeles to Kona.
Starting Aug. 6, Hawaiian plans to resume weekly service between Honolulu and American Samoa.
Hawaiian said its new service will resume under the comprehensive health and safety program — including the use of face coverings, airport and onboard spacing, and enhanced cleaning measures — adopted by the airline in May.
The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said it’s working with the carrier to make further safety tweaks, especially to training, which had been postponed for a period of time and only recently resumed.
Joni Kashiwai, master executive council president for the union, which represents more than 2,000 Hawaiian Airlines flight attendants, said training has stopped again and that the facility is going through a deep-cleaning.
“The company reacted and is doing everything to ensure safety for everybody,” Kashiwai said. “People are getting tested, and training will resume later this month.”