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Most COVID-19 violators are Hawaii residents, Honolulu Police Department says

                                Honolulu police were on hand making spot checks on Waikiki Beach on Sept. 3.
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Honolulu police were on hand making spot checks on Waikiki Beach on Sept. 3.

Just over a week into Honolulu’s pre-arrivals COVID-19 testing program, Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said, police are worried about residents breaking emergency rules as much as they are with visitors.

One of the concerns about allowing tourists to come to Hawaii without having to quarantine for two weeks is that they could contribute to the spread of the novel coronavirus, which the islands — and Honolulu in particular — are trying to control after a large spike in cases throughout August.

Since Oct. 15, the start of the pre-arrivals testing program, the Honolulu Police Department has issued approximately 8,400 warnings and 885 citations and arrests for COVID-19-related violations.

Since Sept. 20, Ballard said, about 33,000 people have been warned, and 3,100 citations have been issued.

“Our concern is not just with the visitors, but with the residents as well,” she said. “Residents are the ones that are out there doing a huge amount of violation, but I really think that for the visitors, the majority of them … I don’t think they’re going to purposely try and violate.”

Ballard acknowledged that the discrepancy in violations could be because there are just so few visitors on Oahu. Just over 5,000 visitors flew to Hawaii on Oct. 17, the most since the pre-arrivals testing program began. But that number has dropped significantly since. On Thursday the Hawaii Tourism Authority reported 3,801 visitors to Hawaii, and about half landed on Oahu.

But Ballard said hotels, especially the larger ones, have been doing their part to educate and remind guests about the outbreak that continues to stall the island’s economy.

“They have a system in place where they can contact the folks who are supposed to be in quarantine. They make sure they get letters of what they can do and can’t do. They’ve gone above and beyond to educate the travelers about what can be done,” Ballard said.

Mufi Hannemann, chief executive officer and president of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, said keeping cases down is vital for hotels.

“The last thing we want to see is for us to shut down again,” he said. “We have been longing for a date to reopen, so we don’t want to have our decision-makers feel that we’re regressing.”

Hannemann said signs, verbal reminders and videos in hotel rooms provide helpful reminders to guests.

But what’s currently in place hasn’t been much comfort to those who continue to see visitors as health risks.

Angela Keen, co-founder of Hawaii Quarantine Kapu Breakers, a statewide, 6,500-member volunteer group that works to identify travel quarantine violators, believes there isn’t enough to educate visitors.

“They never promoted it or marketed it. They never put ads out on the West Coast, where we get the most flights. The only information is a simple, 30-second PSA (public service announcement) on the airlines, showing a hula halau without masks,” she said.

Keen said a friend who flew into Hawaii had to rely on the airline for COVID-19 information and said there weren’t many reminders of mandatory masks after landing in Honolulu.

Many tourists who come to Hawaii do not wear masks, she said, based on “photo after photo after photo” taken while some of the Kapu Breakers did surveillance in tourist areas around Hawaii over the weekend.

“And a lot of the answers (I got) back are, ‘I am out of quarantine. I’m negative. I don’t need to wear a mask,’” Keen said, adding that in some cases, tourists are defiant when asked to do so.

Keen is a proponent for a statewide mask mandate and more signs and brochures for visitors.

She also said the state Attorney General’s Office is better equipped to investigate quarantine violators than HPD.

HPD has a roughly 160-member COVID enforcement team, funded by the federal CARES Act, that Ballard said works full time to enforce emergency rules on Oahu.

She said $5 million in overtime pay has been used so far on the COVID enforcement team, but without any extra federal funding, she said it would be impossible to do the amount of enforcement it’s doing now.

The CARES Act expires at the end of the year.

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