Timing is everything.
No one knows that more than Shawn Camille Skarheim, who left her home in Norway to fly to Hawaii last week with the hope of seeing her dying father, Ronald Richey, one last time.
Her 82-year-old father died Oct. 22 while she was en route and she missed the goodbye that she longed for by mere hours. Then came another disappointment. Skarheim learned upon entering Hawaii that she would be subject to the state’s mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for trans-Pacific travelers.
Skarheim took a COVID-19 test before flying. But state officials wouldn’t accept the 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.
She immediately began the process of applying for a quarantine exemption to attend her father’s viewing and manage and gather her father’s belongings. She sought assistance from the state as well as 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 in Hawaii, which came back negative.
The state Department of Defense granted Skarheim a limited exemption Tuesday to visit her father’s apartment that day and to attend his viewing today. But Skarheim said she’s appealing that decision because she needs a full exemption to take care of bereavement responsibilities. 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.
Skarheim said she’s worried that unless she gets a full exemption to the quarantine that she won’t ever be able to truly know her father, even if it is only by sifting through his belongings and mining the memories of those who were close to him.
“Time is running out. I have to leave on Friday night to go back to my job in Norway,” Skarheim said. “It’s now or never for me. 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.”
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 Wednesday that it could not comment on Skarheim’s particular situation, but that it would review where she was in the process.
JIC 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. These humanitarian exemptions are always limited in nature and meant to allow the individuals to properly address the circumstances they face. They are not blanket exemptions.”
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, VASH president and CEO, said the nonprofit, which helps visitors in distress, has reached out to Skarheim.
“We’re glad that the state granted her a limited exemption, but we are hopeful that the state might consider granting her a full exemption given that her father has died. She only has a limited opportunity to be here and do the things that she needs to do,” Rich said.