Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, director of emergency management for Hawaii, has reversed an earlier decision and said a 14-day self-quarantine exemption previously granted for military family members arriving on “permanent change of station” orders is now revoked.
Hara said in a memo dated Friday that at the request of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and with “the surge in COVID-19 cases in the state of Hawaii, family members traveling to Hawaii are subject to the state’s 14-day self-quarantine.”
The directive differentiates between military service members and their civilian families.
“All military service members traveling to Hawaii for official business are not subject to the state of Hawaii order to self-quarantine,” the memo states. “Arriving military service members must check with their commands for current orders and policies regarding restriction of movement.”
Hawaii’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.
The change in policy amounts to an extra hardship for arriving military families who have to set up a household while civilian members self-quarantine — but also as thousands of military members and their families arrive in Hawaii weekly from mainland or international destinations that could be coronavirus hot spots.
In the face of a surging coronavirus, meanwhile, patience with military families may be wearing thin — even for the military.
At the same time Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell was again closing down beaches, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam said on Facebook that Morale, Welfare and Recreation staff “continue to observe serious lapses in maintaining social distancing guidelines at both Hickam and White Plains beaches.”
A total of 1,552 people who were placed in the category of “military” arrived in Hawaii between July 29 and Tuesday — a seven-day period, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. A group of 327 arrived on Aug. 1 alone.
Some confusion existed 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 previously 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.”
How quarantine for military family members will be enforced was not immediately clear.
U.S. Indo-Pacific Command had said the Department of Homeland Security exempted from the state’s quarantine military members traveling on official orders to Hawaii, but the command instituted its own “restriction of movement” — which means service members are prohibited from going out for 14 days except for “essential” trips such as to the grocery store, doctor or pharmacy.
Hara, incident commander for the state’s coronavirus response, said in a May 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 PCS 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, according to the Joint Information Center.
The military’s restriction of movement is mandatory for service members and advisory for family members, according to Indo- Pacific Command.
Hara’s May memo requested that family members abide by previous state stay-at-home guidelines that allowed minimal shopping and outings.
It all added up to something less than the requirements for arriving civilian residents and tourists who are mandated to stay in a dwelling for 14 days without going anywhere in the community.
The lesser overall requirements for military members and their families drew criticism from Honolulu City Council member Kym Pine, who still believes all incoming arrivals should follow the same coronavirus rules.
“The decision to extend this exemption was something I have questioned since it was issued at the end of May and I told (Maj. Gen. Hara) I opposed it at that time. Now, with our triple-digit COVID case count I believe Gen. Hara has made the appropriate decision,” Pine said.
“For all of Hawaii to rid our state of this virus, we must all work together and make the same sacrifices,” said Pine, who is a military spouse.