Shawn Camille Skarheim is now exempt from Hawaii’s self-quarantine and allowed to rent a rental car, provided that she wears a face covering and adheres to social distancing requirements and other safe practices.
Skarheim was brokenhearted on Oct. 22 after discovering that she’d missed saying goodbye to her 82-year-0ld, terminally ill father Ronald Richey by mere hours. She also was disappointed to learn upon entering Hawaii that she would be subject to the state’s mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for trans-Pacific travelers.
State officials initially wouldn’t accept her COVID-19 test as part of its pre-arrivals testing program since it was taken in Norway, where Hawaii doesn’t yet have any trusted testing partners. Also, the test results were in Norwegian, so they would have been hard for officials to read.
Skarheim asked for a quarantine exemption from the state and sought assistance from the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii and the Norwegian consulate. To support her exemption application, she said that she also took a COVID-19 test on Monday, Oct. 26, in Hawaii, which came back negative.
The state Department of Defense initially granted Skarheim a limited exemption Tuesday to visit her father’s apartment that day and to attend his viewing today. But Skarheim appealed that decision because she said that she needed a full exemption to take care of bereavement responsibilities before she’s slated to return to Norway Friday evening. For starters, she’s got to clean out the apartment where her father kept 35 years of Hawaii belongings. She’d also like time to learn more about the father whom she barely knew.
“He and my mother divorced when I was 2, and I didn’t see him again until I was 16. I used the Salvation Army to find him and then traveled to Hawaii to see him, but it was a difficult and emotional time for us,” the now 49-year-old Skarheim said. “We got into an argument and I left in a bad way.”
It wasn’t until November 2019 that Skarheim said she and her dad reconnected after she sent him a friend request on Facebook. Skarheim said she’s only recently discovered that her father was an Army veteran, who in the later years of his life had become very active in a 12-step recovery program and had founded a well-known meeting.
“My heart’s desire was to see where he lived, meet his friends, and to walk in his footsteps as best I can in this short time,” she said.
Skarheim isn’t the only traveler to Hawaii to end up on the wrong side of the state’s strict entry protocols. Hawaii’s quickly getting a reputation in national media as a place where travelers must follow the rules or risk getting stuck.
It’s only been two weeks today since Hawaii’s pre-arrivals testing program launched and already more than 10,000 travelers have had to quarantine. Commonly this occurs because a passenger didn’t take a COVID-19 test before arriving in Hawaii, they took the wrong test, their test wasn’t from a trusted testing partner or something went amiss when the results were uploaded to the Safe Travels Hawaii application. Sometimes, quarantining passengers have been released after a manual review of their tests, but there’s a backlog.
Travelers also can get out of the quarantine, which has been in place since March 26, if they are granted an exemption by the state Department of Defense. But generally, travelers are expected to get those exemptions before arriving in Hawaii.
The State of Hawaii COVID-19 Joint Information Center said that “the state routinely provides humanitarian exemptions to individuals like Ms. Skarheim who are facing personal circumstances that need flexibility out of total 14-day traveler quarantine.”
But typically, JIC said it doesn’t grant blanket exemptions for humanitarian reasons.
“Humanitarian exemptions are always limited in nature and meant to allow the individuals to properly address the circumstances they face,” JIC said.
JIC said, for example, “if a traveler has a sick relative at Queen’s, we would confirm with Queen’s that the traveler is allowed to visit and then we would allow an exemption so those visits could happen. A blanket exemption is not appropriate given the goal of the system is to guard against COVID infection.”
Jessica Lani Rich, president and CEO of the nonprofit VASH, said she was glad that the state granted Skarheim’s full exemption request, which will give the visitor more flexibility to mourn and handle bereavement duties.