Kauai began allowing trans-Pacific travelers to go through Safe Travels Hawaii on Monday, but no other changes — including accepting a vaccine passport or lifting interisland quarantines — are expected until at least May.
Gov. David Ige, who joined the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii on Monday morning and held an afternoon news conference, said the state is testing the technology needed for a vaccine passport with CommonPass and CLEAR but that they still aren’t ready.
“(Vaccination passports) won’t happen for at least four weeks or so,” Ige said. “I believe that (CommonPass and CLEAR) will be amongst the first two companies that actually get a working vaccine passport, and we’re just glad that they are working with us because that means Hawaii would be able to incorporate that much, much ahead of other jurisdictions.
“They are really committed to making it happen as quickly as possible, but there is much more work that needs to be done,” he said.
Ige said Monday morning that he prefers to wait to lift the interisland quarantines until after May 1, when most everyone over the age of 16 who wants a vaccine in Hawaii will have had an opportunity to get vaccinated. Later in the afternoon, he said the July 4 weekend might be a realistic goal for the reopening of interisland travel.
“Unfortunately, Oahu and Maui have been stuck in these clusters, and they’ve been actually increasing the case counts and that really has been a concern,” Ige said. “I would really just want to ask everyone to continue to be patient. If we hit the mark May 1 that anyone who wants to get vaccinated can schedule their vaccinations, I do think that we would be in a much, much better place to allow for interisland travel more freely.”
Ige’s Monday remarks were made against the backdrop of rising COVID infections, especially on Oahu and Maui. State Department of Health officials Monday reported 95 new coronavirus infections statewide, bringing Hawaii’s total since the start of the pandemic to 30,228 cases.
Health officials said Monday that of the state’s total infection count, 1,313 cases were considered active. Officials say they consider infections reported in the past 14 days to be a “proxy number for active cases.” The number of active cases in the state increased by 12 Monday. The statistics released Monday reflect the new infection cases reported to the department Saturday.
State health officials reported no new coronavirus- related deaths as the statewide death toll remained at 467. The state’s official coronavirus-related death toll includes 369 fatalities on Oahu, 53 on Hawaii island, 41 on Maui, one on Kauai and three Hawaii residents who died outside the state.
Monday’s new statewide infection cases include 53 on Oahu, 23 on Maui, 14 on Hawaii island and five Hawaii residents diagnosed outside the state, according to health officials. As a result of updated information, two previous cases — one from Oahu and one out-of-state — were removed from the counts.
Ige said he’s worried about people dropping their guard, especially if they know that they’ve been vaccinated and tend to think that it’s back to business as usual.
“That’s absolutely the wrong behavior,” Ige said. “I think we all need to continue to wear our mask and socially distance, at least until we get to herd immunity and everyone who wants to get vaccinated can get vaccinated.”
Ige said he anticipates that Hawaii will hit herd immunity in May or June. The challenge until then is to hold everyone together.
He said effective enforcement is needed to stop large social gatherings and events, boost mask-wearing and stop the proliferation of illegal vacation rentals, where guests may be at higher risk of violating coronavirus-related restrictions.
Ige appeared supportive of the concept of a Quarantine Kapu Breakers’ bill to allow retired law enforcement to be deputized for a special task force to assist the Honolulu Police Department and the state Attorney General’s Office.
“We do know that enforcement is important. … I think it’s a great idea for retired police officers or law enforcement personnel who would like to provide that service to help with enforcement,” he said.
Ige said officials know that without enforcement, coronavirus-related restrictions are less effective.
“It’s a huge challenge just because of people letting their guard down and starting to be less rigorous about wearing masks and complying with the limitations on gatherings,” he said. “The more that we can do to enforce it, the more we’ll get compliance. Because people know that if they don’t comply with the guidelines and the rules and the laws, that action will be taken.”
The U.S. coronavirus- related death toll Monday was more than 555,000, and the nationwide infection tally is nearly 31 million.
Hawaii’s low infection rates relative to other states is a rallying point for those who want to see a vaccination travel exemption. The push has accelerated since Friday when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its travel guidelines to reflect that people who have been fully vaccinated for COVID can travel at low risk to themselves.
At the least, those in favor of loosening Hawaii travel restrictions would like to see interisland quarantines lifted. After all, Oahu is no longer the only county where infection rates are rising.
Still, Ige and the more cautious of his constituents want to see cases come down and more widespread vaccination rates throughout Hawaii before easing interisland or trans- Pacific travel restrictions.
Ige said Monday that Hawaii is now on track to vaccinate everyone over age 16 on May 1. The governor previously said Hawaii would lag President Joe Biden’s deadline by a week or two. Biden said last month he wanted to make every adult in the U.S. eligible for vaccinations no later than May 1.
Still, Hawaii’s travel industry must wait a while longer to see meaningful changes to Safe Travels.
Honolulu resident Jerry Lynch expressed his disappointment Monday, following a trip with his wife Friday to Kahului.
“Our travel experience was worse than it was in February,” Lynch said. “Back in February, when the planes were only half full, they had nine people to process travelers. On Friday the planes were full, and they only had three people working. Some people had to wait over an hour to get processed. It was very disappointing.”
Lynch recommends that Hawaii make haste to allow vaccination exemptions, especially given the CDC’s updated travel guidance.
In the absence of that, Lynch urged the state to hire more people to process travelers at the airport.
“I think the travel policies have hurt us already and will continue to hurt us until we come up with an easier plan to meet everybody’s end goals,” he said. “The big problem now for someone coming from the mainland is that they read that the CDC now says if you are vaccinated you can travel. They get here and find out Hawaii is not included.”
Nonessential travel to Hawaii was nearly stopped at the height of the COVID pandemic.
Hawaii’s visitor industry has been recovering since the state launched Safe Travels on Oct. 15. On the program’s start date, the state screened 10,173 interisland and trans-Pacific travelers.
On Sunday, Safe Travels screened 25,097 interisland and trans-Pacific travelers. But it’s unclear whether the spring break effect will linger much past April.
Changes in Safe Travels are closely tracked by Hawaii’s visitor industry as they determine whether tourism expands or contracts.
Kauai’s decision to opt out of Safe Travels Hawaii on Dec. 2 brought an immediate contraction of tourism on that island which extended to some others. The day before Kauai announced it would opt out of the program, 1,429 travelers came through the Safe Travels program and entered Kauai. On Dec. 2, Safe Travels screened only 145 travelers who were going to Lihue.
Monday’s count of travelers to Kauai who came through Safe Travels isn’t yet available, but was expected to increase substantially based on flight traffic. Some 22 inbound flights came into Kauai on Monday. Five new trans-Pacific flights brought the total to eight, and five new interisland flights brought that count to 14. Most of the arriving flights were fairly full.