Members of the Senate special committee on COVID-19 on Wednesday grilled the state attorney general and members of the state Health Department on their plans to reopen Hawaii for a potential surge of tourism beginning Sept. 1 — with enhanced screening and better documentation.
In one of several heated exchanges Wednesday, committee member state Sen. Jarrett Keohokaloloe, (D, Kailua-Kaneohe), told state Attorney General Clare Connors, “I think we’re talking past each other here. What we’re hearing are a lot — a lot of comments — from the community that there isn’t faith that the quarantine is being enforced effectively. And what we’re hearing from you is that the system to enforce the quarantine is as solid as it can be.”
Connors responded: “The quarantine is challenging to enforce. … If people have complaints, if people know that there are persons that are violating the quarantine … they need to report that to their police departments. … Everything comes down to the facts that we can follow up on.”
State Sen. Kurt Fevella, (R, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point), sat silently through the nearly hourlong hearing before finally unloading on Connors’ position that county police departments should enforce state quarantine violations.
“They have enough … already to do,” Fevella said. “How is that gonna help us?”
Connors repeated, “the quarantine is challenging to enforce.”
“If you’re on the beach, and I’ve seen this, you should have your mask on,” she said. “You should have your distance. And you should be acting as if every other person is sick and you should be acting as if you are sick. I mean, we’re in a global pandemic.”
Connors earlier told members of the Senate special committee on COVID-19 that prior questions about concerns regarding mainland visitors had been “de-coupled” from new plans to screen incoming tourists starting Sept. 1, as announced by Gov. David Ige on Monday.
Arriving airline passengers — who will be subject to pre-boarding health screenings 72 hours before boarding — also will be subjected to new health-screening questions on a two-page questionnaire as of Aug. 1, Connors told members of the Senate special committee.
Starting Aug. 1, “we’re going to be taking that to the next level,” Connors said. “When you arrive, you’re going to get your temperature thermal scanning when you get off the airplane” along with other verifications.
Passengers with temperatures above 100.4 degrees will be directed to “secondary screening” areas where they will be offered a voluntary test for COVID-19, said Dr. Sarah Park, the state’s Health Department epidemiologist.
“We cannot force people to be tested,” Park testified. Those who refuse a secondary COVID-19 test will be “given some guidance, some information and then sent on their way,” she said.
Committee chairman Donovan Dela Cruz, replied: “That means they’re roaming about.”
To which Park replied, “We don’t have proof that it’s COVID, so we can’t keep them.”
Connors reiterated a previous concept that some hotels could be designated as 14-day quarantine sites — with liability for controlling quarantined visitors — without naming any of the hotels.
“Yes, the idea of designating hotel areas, specific hotels that meet certain criteria … ” Connors said. “They are liable, that’s what we are looking towards. … We’re working out the details on that now.”
At one point in Wednesday’s hearing, committee chairman Donovan Dela Cruz clearly had had enough.
He told Connors that it was time for the state to “take the leadership role. Because if not, we’ll never be ready. If the governor’s just going to sit there waiting for the counties to come to them with policies, we’re never going to be ready.”
Connors quickly replied, “The governor is taking the leadership role.”