UPDATE 3:18 P.M.:
A ban on housing evictions across Hawaii will be extended through the end of August, Gov. David Ige announced today.
Ige plans to extend the ban in his 10th supplemental emergency proclamation that he expects to issue Tuesday.
“We have heard from many on the impact the pandemic has had on the individual ability to pay rent,” Ige told reporters during a press conference.
The extension is intended to postpone evictions until Congress decides whether to fund another round of COVID-19-related financial assistance to Hawaii and other states.
Gov. David Ige said today that he is pushing back plans to use a pre-arrivals testing program to reopen Hawaii tourism.
Ige said it will be Sept.1 before the state begins a program to allow passengers with approved negative COVID-19 tests taken within 72 hours of their trip to Hawaii to bypass the state’s mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for out-of state passengers.
Ige said an uptick in coronavirus cases in Hawaii and a huge increase in some mainland states led government officials to reassess the plan.
Late last month, Ige had announced an Aug. 1 pre-arrivals program start date. That change was expected to roll back some of the economic damage to Hawaii caused by the collapse of tourism, which began free-falling after Ige ordered a 14-day travel quarantine for out-of-state arrivals starting March 26.
The quarantines weren’t very appealing to travelers, who were required to confine themselves in a designated location for two weeks after arriving in Hawaii or face up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Normally on any given day in Hawaii in July some 35,000 passengers arrive most of them visitors. Today only 2,215 passengers arrived and only 505 of them were visitors.
Earlier today, Ige told a House COVID-19 Committee that he’s also preparing to extend the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for out-of-state passengers to the end of August. Ige said he also expects to tighten the rules for masks and for the size of gatherings in the next emergency proclamation.
A similar quarantine for interisland travelers, which started April 1, was lifted June 16. However Ige’s administration struggled to more broadly reopen tourism because of the intricacies of balancing Hawaii’s economic needs against the risk that more freedom could bring a second wave of COVID-19 cases.
The latest changes are only adding to the confusion. Many details about the testing program or how to market it to travelers remain unknown. Travelers and visitor industry members have complained that the 72-hour testing requirement is too tight for most travelers.
Businesses, even those outside of the visitor industry, say tourism must reopen before Hawaii’s economy can begin recovering. They say Hawaii leaders shouldn’t be wobbling on reopening dates when an extra $600 in weekly unemployment payments from the federal government to Hawaii’s 250,000 currently jobless residents is slated to end July 31.
On the other hand, selling the reopening to cautious residents and some members of Hawaii’s healthcare industry has been tough too. Confidence that Hawaii won’t experience a second wave of cases has faltered along with reports of rising COVID-19 counts in Florida, Arizona, Texas and California, where Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom today extended the closure of bars and indoor dining statewide and ordered gyms, churches and hair salons closed in most places.
Achieving balance is challenging, especially when there’s a perception that the benchmarks keep moving.
On June 24 Ige said some new COVID-19 cases will slip into Hawaii with the reopening of tourism; however, he emphasized that the state has stepped up screening and contact tracing and is prepared to handle the increase.
Ige said the trigger to halt the testing program or implement other restrictions would be “a doubling in the the number of new cases each week for two consecutive incubation periods— so essentially it would end up having to be a doubling and doubling and doubling and doubling over a four-week period.”
Hawaii’s COVID-19 counts have been on the rise in recent weeks, but they haven’t hit the earlier benchmark that Ige referenced. Instead, officials appear to be reacting to rising COVID-19 counts on the mainland and fears about local testing capacity.
It didn’t help that on Wednesday, Honolulu-based Diagnostic Laboratory Services said its capacity for COVID-19 testing has decreased to 250 tests from 800 a day because of drastic cuts in access to reagents and other testing supplies by Roche Diagnostics — one of the largest manufacturers of equipment and supplies for COVID-19 testing.
For now, DLS can only do priority testing locally. Non-priority tests will be sent to mainland labs, which could take up to 10 days before results are confirmed.
Gov. David Ige said today that he plans to extend Hawaii’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for arriving passengers through the end of August in another COVID-19 supplemental emergency proclamation.
Asked about dual concerns over the Aug. 4 start of the school year and the Aug. 1 expected arrival of thousands of trans-Pacific passengers who will be pre-tested prior to boarding, Ige told members of the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness today that discussions are underway with Hawaii’s public and private school leaders and each of the four county mayors.
“Clearly both of those activities would lead to an increase in cases,” and has the mayors “and I very concerned,” Ige said. “I can assure you that we are looking at that.”
Ige had earlier announced plans to end the quarantine on Aug. 1 for passengers who test negative for the coronavirus before coming to the state. However an uptick in coronavirus cases in Hawaii and a huge increase in some mainland states has led government officials to reassess the plan. An announcement on the pre-testing plan is expected later today.
Asked today about the liability of people and businesses hosting visitors who flout the 14-day quarantine, Ige reiterated that local landowners and businesses will be responsible and liable for “enforcing or helping” to enforce the quarantine.
Ige’s comments came as the state today announced three new COVID-19 deaths over the weekend.
Earlier, U.S. Rep. Ed Case told the committee that a second-round of COVID-19-related federal funding for Hawaii and the rest of the nation passed the House in May but continues “languishing in the Senate for almost two months.”
The so-called Heroes Act would provide additional funding for small businesses, “direct stimulus payments” and to replace federal unemployment benefits “that are about to run out” to supplement weekly state unemployment benefits.
If the Senate agrees, Case said he has little hope that the federal unemployment benefits would be at the current level of $600 a week.
The drop in weekly, overall unemployment benefits “creates an immediate fiscal cliff” for current recipients, Case said. “That creates a period where it’s going to get really, really rough.”
Ige later repeated recommendations that people wear masks indoors and out and practice other good hygiene such as constant hand washing.
“We all need to continue to repeat the message,” Ige said.
But Nathaniel Kinney, executive director of the Hawaii Construction Alliance and a member of the committee, raised concerns about lack of social distancing, especially among younger people.
“We can be experiencing exactly what’s happening in other areas (of the country), but we’re a couple of weeks behind,” Kinney said, as schools and passengers arrive in greater numbers in a couple of weeks.
“I have two small kids,” Kinney said, “add that’s what I’m worried about.”