Hawaii island Mayor Harry Kim is standing by his decision not to participate in the state’s pre-travel testing program unless the governor approves a two-test option for the island that has seen coronavirus cases surge in recent weeks.
In a video conference with Gov. David Ige, Kim said today he expressed his concerns that “the decision on the one-test proposal by the state is not acceptable in regards to our risk factor. If that is the only option, then Hawaii County will not participate in it.”
On Monday, Ige gave each county the option to opt out of the program that will allow travelers who test negative to avoid the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine starting on Oct. 15, after denying Kauai County’s proposal to establish a post-travel testing program to supplement the state’s program. The governor did not respond when asked why he rejected Kauai’s proposal for a second-test option.
Kim said the governor denied Kauai’s plan because of concerns that “a two-test system would put high demand on a limited number of test kits in the state of Hawaii,” which only has roughly 7,000 tests. Kauai had secured 15,000 of its own rapid tests for a post-arrival pilot program, but the governor was concerned that the island doesn’t have an ongoing supply of test kits, he said.
Still, Kim said he is working on his own two-test system (he originally proposed a three-test program) and would opt back in the state program if the governor approves it.
“I am trying to find a way to propose a minimum of a two-test system that will meet his approval and one of the major stumbling blocks is he will not accept an increase in test kits that will drain the state system,” he said.
But that is not Kim’s biggest problem.
Operational issues are the most challenging, including who would administer a second test to travelers arriving on island, where the tests would be administered and how the county would monitor visitors, which is yet to be determined, Kim said.
“We all have the same goal to try to open up the economy and I know how important the industry’s travel and resorts are. Those are all operational problems that I have to work out. It’s not that simple,” he added. “If you do not have a test system you’re comfortable with and it causes a great increase and we have to reverse, I think you do more harm to the businesses than anything else outside of the physical harm that we do to people. I will never get over the harm that was created to the veterans. I feel like the trust was really broken.”
Hawaii island recorded its highest daily COVID-19 count on Saturday at 43 new infections. Hilo Medical Center reported the Big Island’s coronavirus death toll at 32, most of them at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home, which had the state’s largest nursing home outbreak.
Currently, most travelers arriving in the islands must quarantine for 14 days. Interisland travelers from Oahu are also subject to the 14-day quarantine. An estimated 5,000 daily arrivals are expected when the state’s pre-travel testing policy takes effect, up from about 2,000 visitors currently.
The county mayors discussed today the need for a two-test policy for trans-Pacific travel instead of the state program that takes effect in less than 10 days, Kim said.
Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said he has not made a final decision on whether the island will participate in the state’s program.
“Decisions must be deliberate and we can’t commit to plans we don’t fully understand. The option to opt out is a recent development. As we understand it, our proposal was denied in part because the state aimed for consistency across the board, so visitors would not be confused,” Kawakami said in a statement. “How does the option to opt out achieve that goal? If each county were to opt out, where does that leave the statewide travel plan? Our goal is not to extend a mandatory 14-day quarantine in perpetuity. Our goal is to keep our community safe while we take a phased, responsible approach to reopening. We believed we could do that by offering an enhanced second-test program.”
Brian Perry, spokesman for Maui Mayor Michael Victorino, would not comment on any decision to opt out but said “talks are ongoing between the County of Maui and Office of the Governor on this issue.”
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell earlier told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that although a second post-arrival test is preferable, one test is better than none at all.
Ige said he respects the reservations of the neighbor island mayors and will “continue to work with the mayors to address these concerns.”
“The Safe Travels Program aims to reduce the risk of COVID-19 and support safe travel while also restoring jobs in Hawaii,” Ige said in a statement. “The program needs to be clear, consistent and as simple as possible for our residents and visitors in order to ensure the program’s success.”
Hawaii recorded three additional coronavirus deaths and 83 new infections statewide, bringing the totals since the start of the pandemic to 160 deaths and 12,937 cases. The new daily cases represent 6.7% of the 1,249 tests tallied.
The fatalities were three women — two in their 80s and another in her 60s — all with underlying medical conditions.
There are 2,251 active infections statewide and a total of 10,526 patients now considered recovered, or nearly 81.4% of those infected.
Kim Horton, owner of ResorticaHawaii.com, which manages 73 short-term vacation rentals in resort areas on the Big Island, said any delays in reopening tourism will be detrimental to businesses barely surviving the economic slump.
For instance, 60% to 70% of the shops are closed at the Queens’ MarketPlace at the Waikoloa Beach Resort, she said.
“This place is dying,” she said, adding that the resort areas are ideal for resort bubbles that allow visitors to leave their rooms and utilize the pools and on-site restaurants during their mandatory quarantine.
“We just need people back. It just makes me sick to my stomach to see that these people have invested their savings and all of their time into these businesses … and they have nothing now,” she said. “The latest outbreaks here on the Big Island have been associated with the veterans center. Those should be the places that have the restrictions, not the rest of us. I have an elderly grandmother and family with compromised health systems and I think the onus should be on us to care for them, not affect everybody else, their livelihoods, income, their businesses. The emotional distress I’ve seen some of my employees under, it breaks my heart. There is so much more harm happening by not even making a baby step to open the tourism industry.”