Gov. David Ige today approved Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami’s request to temporarily opt-out of the state’s pre-arrivals testing program, which essentially stops all non-essential travel to Kauai.
“The unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases on the mainland and the rise in community spread on Kauai are of significant concern for the Garden Isle,” Ige said in a news release this evening. “We must protect Kauai residents and visitors and ensure that Kauai’s hospitals do not become overwhelmed.
“Kauai County currently has the fewest number of ICU beds in the state, and private providers are seeking ways to increase capacity. This moratorium aims to stabilize the situation on Kauai,” Ige said.
The decision is effective Wednesday at 12:01 a.m., and means that all trans-Pacific and inter-island travelers arriving in Kauai are subject to the 14-day quarantine regardless of test results.
Kawakami made his request in the wake of dozens of new COVID-19 infections, especially travel-related cases on Kauai.
“I’d like to thank Gov. Ige for approving Emergency Rule 23, temporarily pausing Kauai’s participation in the state’s pre-travel testing program,” Kawakami said. “Given the national surge of COVID cases on the mainland, Kauai is unable to adequately protect itself by utilizing the Safe Travels program at this time.
“Our travel related cases are now leading to community spread across our island. This temporary pause in travel will allow us to remain in Tier 4 as long as possible, keeping youth sports playing and businesses open as we conduct surge testing and contact tracing. I will gladly repeal the moratorium once we have the virus under control again.”
The state has been closely monitoring travel-associated cases since the state’s pre-travel testing program began Oct. 15. New data shows the positivity rate is up, though community spread is still responsible for the vast majority of cases.
Kauai, however, has seen a larger spike in travel-related coronavirus infections since the start of the pre-travel testing program. The island had only reported 61 cases between March 1 and Oct. 14.
But as of today, Kauai’s COVID-cases had already jumped to 45 in November, up from six in October, when there was zero community spread. Travel-related cases on Kauai represent the vast majority of the island’s new infections this month.
“We hadn’t seen community transmission since July and we are starting to see it now,” Kawakami told the Star-Advertiser on Tuesday.
Temporarily opting out of the Safe Travels program allows the island to remain in that county’s Tier 4 – the least restrictive tier – allowing the counties local economy to operate for as long as possible, he said.
“We are in the pandemic, and in general, that’s hit the economy hard,” Kawakami said. “I do have to say our proactive measures allowed Kauai to reopen after the initial stay-at-home order quicker than the other counties.”
Kawakami said Kauai’s low case counts prior to the pre-arrivals testing program had meant that the county could permit greater economic and social activities than the other counties. Bars had been able to operate and kid’s sporting events to take place, he said.
“People have been responsible and so what’s more detrimental is having to go back into another stay-at-home order if we don’t act proactively,” Kawakami said.
The Kauai Chamber of Commerce and some members of Hawaii’s visitor industry say they are equally concerned with keeping Kauai’s tourist economy functioning.