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Honolulu Police Department to deploy COVID-19 quarantine response teams on Oahu

The Honolulu Police Department has created a small unit of police officers to check up on incoming travelers who are supposed to be quarantined on Oahu.

Dubbed quarantine response teams, two five- member squads who work either day or night shifts have started conducting physical quarantine checks to make sure travelers who should be in quarantine are complying. The response teams began the quarantine checks Thursday.

The teams, made up of a sergeant and four officers, come from HPD’s roughly 160-member COVID enforcement teams, which are funded by the federal CARES Act. Volunteering officers, who HPD said are selected on a first-come, first-served basis, are being paid overtime.

To conduct the checks, they will receive from the state a list of travelers who must comply with the state’s 14-day quarantine. Since Oct. 15, travelers participating in the Safe Travels Hawaii pre-arrival testing program can bypass the 14-day quarantine if they get a state-approved COVID-19 test 72 hours before flying to Hawaii.

“The officers will look at the address. If it belongs in their district, they have to make a physical check to the address, knock on the doors of their home, condo, hotel, etc.,” said Acting Assistant Chief Crizalmer Caraang during a Honolulu Police Commission meeting Wednesday.

It appears the response teams will be focused on enforcement.

“Discretion will be used, but primarily enforcement will be done, whether it be by arrest or citation,” Caraang told the commission.

The teams will do quarantine checks that state Attorney General’s Office investigators have been doing since the 14-day travel quarantine was instituted in Hawaii.

Krishna Jayaram, special assistant to the attorney general, said investigators have made 47 arrests based on these checks. In October they made 663 compliance checks and 1,825 checks total, Jayaram said.

AG investigators and Honolulu police are working together to do the checks. HPD spokeswoman Sarah Yoro said the police are supplementing the investigators’ efforts.

Neither HPD nor the Attorney General’s Office said it could individually check up on all the travelers who are quarantined, and it’s not clear whether that’s possible now that they’re working together.

Neither department immediately knew how many people are supposed to be quarantined on Oahu, but HPD Chief Susan Ballard said to the Police Commission that the response teams won’t be able to check up on the “tens of thousands of people” supposed to be quarantined on Oahu.

There were 4,096 travelers who flew into Honolulu on Thursday, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. About 3,000 to 4,000 people flew into Hawaii every day over the past week or so.

HPD’s quarantine response teams are a welcome surprise for Angela Keen, co-founder of Hawaii Quarantine Kapu Breakers, a statewide volunteer group that has been identifying travel quarantine violators.

Keen had been critical of HPD’s ability to follow up on and enforce quarantine orders on the island, but she has noticed more effort by the state and Honolulu police since Halloween.

“They did a great job and I was pleasantly surprised. There were a couple of parties that we knew of, that we heard about, and a few gatherings and unofficial costume parades, and we worked with them in documenting what we had and they took care of it,” Keen said.

She said HTA has taken to heart Kapu Breakers’ observations that some recent visitors who have been coming to Hawaii have been defiant in following coronavirus-related policies like wearing masks. She said HTA has taken more steps to inform visitors that masks are mandatory.

Even within the state there has been some confusion about whether masks are mandatory or just recommendations.

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