Gov. David Ige said Thursday the 14-day quarantine for out-of-state travelers to Hawaii will be extended beyond June 30 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a meeting with all four of the state’s county mayors that was streamed on Facebook Live, Ige confirmed the extension in response to a question from the public.
“Certainly, we’ll be making that announcement soon,” he said. He didn’t specify how long the extension of the mandatory two-week quarantine for in-state arrivals would be.
“Interisland is different, but trans-Pacific continues to be concern,” Ige said.
Ige was asked about lifting the 14-day quarantine for interisland travelers, but didn’t give a specific date.
“All of the mayors and I have been working for the last three weeks to … look at reopening interisland travel,” he said. “And, I assure you, we’re very close, and we’ll be making a decision in the next few days.”
Both quarantines currently remain in effect through the end of June.
Meanwhile, the state Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 expressed preliminary support Thursday for a pilot “travel-safety bubble” proposal from a private sector group called the Hawaii Executive Collaborative. The proposal would loosen travel restrictions between Hawaii and Japan.
The state entertained about 1.6 million visitors from Japan last year, accounting for 15% of Hawaii’s visitors. In April, however, only 13 tourists arrived from Japan because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the mandatory 14-day quarantine order on passengers arriving in Hawaii.
Paul Yonamine, chairman and CEO of Central Pacific Financial Corp., said planners for the so-called “travel bubble” could start meeting Monday and tentatively would like to welcome back travelers from Japan starting July 1.
“Given the significance of Japan tourists to Hawaii and Japan’s low COVID-19 infection and death rates, a travel bubble with Japan could serve as an effective start and pilot in the gradual reopening of tourism,” Yonamine told the lawmakers.
The agreement, if approved, would likely allow incoming visitors from Japan, who meet safety thresholds, to be exempted from the state’s mandatory quarantine.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green, an emergency room physician from Kona, said in a Facebook Live question-and-answer session earlier Thursday that he likes idea.
“There’s also New Zealand and Australia,” Green said. “These are large possibilities for us.” Both those countries, like Hawaii, have flattened the coronavirus infection curve.
Green did add a caveat, however.
“We cannot just throw caution to the wind,” he said. “We can’t just open up and hope that our (airport screening) lanes screen and catch everybody. We will get cases because … the national numbers are that about 35% of all individuals who are positive for COVID are asymptomatic carriers. But there are clusters that are much worse. On one of the cruise ships, there were 80% of the individuals that were positive asymptomatic. They had a weak strain, basically, of the virus.
“Can you imagine if a cohort from some city or a cruise ship came in and 80% were positive? They would spread it like wildfire. And we have such a low rate of infection, we have very little immunity here. So without many antibodies and with the potential for asymptomatic carriers coming into the state … I think ‘travel with aloha’ — meaning getting a test 72 hours or less before travel — will give us good protection.”
He added that mainland U.S. visitors to Hawaii could be welcomed in on an expedited schedule, if they were to be tested within 72 hours of boarding a flight from Hawaii.
Green said many CVS pharmacies on the mainland now do testing on demand for a fee, and visitors arriving in Hawaii with negative test result certification could avoid much of the red tape other arrivals encounter at Hawaii airports.
Big Island Mayor Harry Kim said the possibility of asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus arriving in Hawaii is of particular concern because “they look healthy.”
“I think all of us here on the screen, the five of us … put the priority on community’s health first, rightfully, and secondly is the economy, knowing how important that is,” Kim said.
With the official statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate for April at 22.3%, Kim said he knows “how impatient people are for the economy to reopen, and rightfully so.”
“But we have to make sure first that it is safe,” Kim said.
Kim also announced Thursday that almost all business, including private gyms, fitness centers and indoor swimming pools, museums and theaters, personal services such as barbers and hairstylists, tattoo artists, real estate services, etc., will be allowed to reopen Monday, as long as they follow state Department of Health safe reopening practices and CDC guidelines.
There are exceptions, including transient accommodations, except where essential workers are staying; bars, nightclubs, arcades and other public gathering venues where social distancing measures are difficult to implement; contact sports; and events and other gatherings greater than 10 people.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.