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A rise in coronavirus cases on the West Coast could mean fewer travelers visiting the islands

  • JAMM AQUINO / OCT. 15
                                A new California travel advisory could mean fewer visitors from that state coming to Hawaii. Above, travelers are screened after arriving on trans-Pacific flights at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

    JAMM AQUINO / OCT. 15

    A new California travel advisory could mean fewer visitors from that state coming to Hawaii. Above, travelers are screened after arriving on trans-Pacific flights at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

While Hawaii is experiencing a post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases, California’s numbers make Hawaii’s look tame.

On Sunday, Hawaii reported 200 new cases and California reported 49,685. On a per capita basis, California had an average of nearly 100 cases for every 100,000 people in the past seven days. Hawaii had 12 cases per 100,000.

Aside from sympathy for the citizens of our neighboring state, Hawaii residents have good reason to be concerned about California’s COVID surge.

As Hawaii tries to claw its way out of the worst economic decline in decades, California is a key to the revival of tourism.

California is the source- market for most of Hawaii’s visitors.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a travel advisory Wednesday recommending Californians avoid nonessential travel to any part of California more than 120 miles from their residence, or to other states or countries.

Newsom’s advisory is another blow to Hawaii’s ailing tourism industry.

California supplied more than 2.6 million of the 10.4 million visitors, or roughly a quarter of all visitors, who came to Hawaii in 2019, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority data.

Hawaii’s heavy reliance on travelers from California was clear during the first nine days of 2021. From Jan. 1 to 9, 44,072 of 111,212 travelers, or nearly 40% of those who participated in Safe Travels Hawaii, departed from a California airport.

“Even in the COVID environment, California has held up as a relatively steady percentage of our domestic market. It’s still the largest single state contributor to Hawaii tourism,” said OmniTrak President Chris Kam.

Newsom’s advisory also says nonessential travelers returning to California from other states or countries should self-quarantine for 10 days after arrival.

Kam said the impact of California’s latest advisory on Hawaii tourism could be similar to what Hawaii has seen from international markets, where few travelers want to come if they have to quarantine upon their return home.

While the California rules are only advisory, Kam said they could influence some travelers to rethink travel plans.

“The only good news is that travel right now to Hawaii has been down anyway. Because of the vaccine, people across the country are holding off for travel until summer — so we won’t be losing much,” Kam said. “It’s good that these requirements are happening now as opposed to later when travel demand has recovered more.”

California officials have warned they could mandate restrictions if case counts continue to go up. A mandate would hit Hawaii tourism much harder than the current travel advisory, although it could garner support from those who fear that the state’s Safe Travels Hawaii program isn’t robust enough to screen out all incoming COVID-19 infections.

Some Hawaii residents fear a COVID-19 spike in California increases the likelihood that additional coronavirus cases will slip through Safe Travels. Studies have consistently shown that despite Hawaii’s economic woes, most Hawaii residents prioritize personal health and safety over tourism growth.

Fear was the basis of Kauai’s decision to opt out of the Safe Travels program, effective Dec. 2, requiring all travelers to Kauai to undergo a mandatory 10-day quarantine with no option to test out. On Jan. 5, Kauai did begin allowing interisland travelers to participate in Safe Travels and avoid quarantine with a negative COVID test before arriving. That same day, Kauai also began running its own trans-Pacific entry program.

Travel-related COVID-19 cases have grown since Hawaii reopened travel, but the majority of cases statewide still are due to community spread. Even so, California’s most recent case counts are hardly reassuring.

Hawaii Department of Health officials Sunday reported two new coronavirus-related deaths in addition to 200 infections, bringing the state’s totals since the start of the pandemic to 309 fatalities and 23,341 cases.

The fatalities included a person on Oahu and one Hawaii resident diagnosed out of state. No further details on the deaths were immediately available.

Sunday’s new statewide infection cases reported by the Health Department include 128 on Oahu, 30 on Maui, 12 on the Big Island, nine on Kauai and 21 state residents diagnosed outside of Hawaii, officials said.

Sunday’s seven-day average case count for Oahu is 129, and the seven-day average positivity rate is 4.1%.

The statistics released Sunday reflect the new infection cases reported to the department Friday.

By island, Oahu has 1,598 active cases, Maui has 384, the Big Island has 144, Kauai has 23 and Molokai has three, according to the state’s latest tally. Lanai has no active COVID cases.

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