State Senate panel makes recommendations to beef up quarantine enforcement

  • INOUYE

A state Senate committee is recommending that hotels not issue room keys to visitors during the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine period, nor should visitors be allowed to rent cars while officially quarantined.

According to a Senate statement, the Special Committee on COVID-19 made those recommendations, among others, in a report issued Wednesday. Those recommendations and others to improve passenger quarantine enforcement procedures were made following an oversight visit to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu and discussions with Attorney General Clare Connors, and officials from the Hawaii Tourism Authority and state Department of Transportation, according to the release.

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Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, an Oahu Democrat on the COVID-19 committee, told DOT Airports Division Deputy Director Ross Higashi during an April 30 meeting he didn’t think information provided by arriving mainland passengers is being verified well enough to ensure compliance with the 14-day self-quarantine imposed on visitors March 26 by Gov. David Ige. He added the committee intended to visit the Honolulu airport May 1 to witness how passengers were being processed.

The committee also asked Connors “to consider moving towards immediate fines” for quarantine violators and to fine “hotels and homeowners tied to violations of the quarantine order,” according to the statement.

The Tribune-Herald requested a copy of the report, but didn’t receive it in time for this story.

“This is only the committee’s suggestions and proposals,” said Sen. Lorraine Inouye, a Hawaii Island Democrat who chairs the Transportation Committee but doesn’t sit on the COVID-19 committee. “I’m not sure where the governor is on accepting it.”

Inouye, who worked in the hotel industry for more than two decades, including management, said she thinks withholding hotel room keys from travelers — especially those who made reservations in advance of any decision to not provide keys — could open hoteliers to civil lawsuits.

“This must be made clear to the traveler before travel,” she said. “They should be alerted at the point of making reservations.”

She said that “independent travelers” who make flight arrangements without lodging because “they got a cheap ticket to fly to Hawaii” should be notified at the airport of departure beforehand, rather than at the hotel desk or at the airport in Hawaii.

Inouye added it’s potentially dangerous for a desk clerk or bellhop to escort travelers to their room without providing a key, and escorting arriving guests should be done by hotel security staff if that plan is adopted.

According to HTA, despite the 14-day quarantine order, 216 visitors arrived in Hawaii on Tuesday, as well as 286 residents, who are also subject to the quarantine order upon arrival.

HTA said 201 of the visitors arrived in Honolulu, while the other 15 were Kona arrivals. Ellison Onizuka International Airport in Kona also saw 32 residents and 14 intended residents arrive Tuesday.

Between March 26 and April 30, 23,302 passengers arrived in Hawaii by air including 4,508 visitors and 8,224 residents, HTA said. Of those, Kona logged a total of 1,271 arriving passengers: 351 visitors, 461 residents, 162 intended residents, 288 crew and one passenger in transit to elsewhere, according to HTA.

According to the Senate, the committee plans to work with DOT, HTA and the state Department of Agriculture to update forms arriving passengers are required to fill out “to close gaps in the current screening and enforcement.”

“This would include, among other updates, additional information to allow the DOT and HTA to verify the dates of departures for visitors,” the statement said.

According to the statement, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency also will work with DOT and HTA “to make adjustments to its forms.”

HTA is also “working with stakeholders to contract a database application to more efficiently gather, sort and store the information currently collected through its forms and the state’s Safe Travelers app,” the statement said.

“The database would be searchable, and access would be provided to all law enforcement agencies.”

Cost projections for the database application are $26,000. The cost would initially be paid by HTA, then reimbursed by HI-EMA with Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding.

A part-time Kona resident, who requested anonymity, told the Tribune-Herald on Wednesday she and her daughter returned to the Big Island from the mainland a week ago via Honolulu.

The woman said they were screened in Honolulu, including a temperature check and verification of their cellphone numbers, but “no one screened us or talked to us at all when we landed in Kona.”

She added that they returned “straight home” and do required daily check-ins on the safetravels.hawaii.org app, but “have not received a single call or a single visit” since April 30.

“No one has checked on us at all. Not once. It’s pretty depressing, really,” the woman said. “Maybe they are not tracking returning residents as aggressively, but they really should be if they want to protect residents and prevent spread.

“We are respecting the quarantine rules anyhow, but the lack of enforcement sends the wrong message. What is the state paying all this enforcement money for if no one is calling or checking?”

The Department of Health reported one new Hawaii case of COVID-19 as of noon Wednesday, in the City and County of Honolulu. That brings the total number of cases statewide to 626, with 17 deaths, 11 in Honolulu and 6 on Maui.

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According to DOH, 558 of those infected have been released from isolation, a recovery rate of 89.1 percent.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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