Gov. David Ige thinks his plan to allow trans-Pacific travelers to skip the two-week quarantine requirement will be able to go forward in September, despite reservations from the state’s mayors.
Ige’s initial plan was to allow travelers from outside the state to avoid quarantine if they submitted a negative COVID-19 test from 72 hours or fewer before arrival beginning in August. However, that plan was postponed until Sept. 1 after Mayor Harry Kim and mayors of the state’s other counties said it was insufficient to protect public health.
However, Ige told the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday he thinks the plan can be improved to allay the concerns of Kim and the other mayors before Sept. 1 and avoid another delay.
“Harry and I agree; there are gaps that I wish were closed,” Ige said. “And we’re looking to implement ways we can close those gaps.”
In particular, Ige said, he is working on implementing a digital real-time monitoring program to track quarantined travelers and more effectively detect quarantine violations, which Kim said earlier this month would be necessary for his support.
Should Kim or another mayor still be reluctant to loosen out-of-state travel restrictions by September, Ige said there could be some flexibility to allow an individual county to pursue different travel policies, but enforcing safety would be difficult. In any event, Ige said he will continue to make evaluations as Sept. 1 approaches.
So far, Ige said, the number of COVID-19 cases has not yet reached a point that would require the state to halt or roll back its recovery plans, which several states have done in the face of overwhelming case numbers.
On June 24, the governor said that a doubling of cases every week for four weeks would be cause to return to enforcing quarantines for interisland travelers. Since then, the number of daily cases has increased substantially, rising from 16 on June 24 to a spike of 42 cases on July 11. Most recently, however, the number of cases has stabilized and hovered around the 20s for the past week.
Had the number of cases continued to rise to 50 or 60 in a day, Ige said, he and the mayors discussed the possibility of closing bars, restaurants and other high-risk businesses again, which he added would come before reinstating the quarantines for interisland travel.
Ige also said he is continuing to discuss with representatives from neighboring countries such as Japan and Korea, which have largely controlled the pandemic, to potentially reopen limited travel to Hawaii. While he said Hawaii remains a popular hypothetical travel destination for residents of those countries, many nations banned travel to any part of the U.S. outright because of high COVID-19 case numbers.
However, Ige said limited travel between the state and other countries, if done safely, could be a serious boon for the Hawaii’s struggling economy. He estimated that the state has lost about 25% of its revenue since the pandemic began.
“If we don’t see additional federal relief in August, we’re definitely going to have to look at how to cut costs,” Ige said. “Our revenues cannot support our current costs.”
Ige said he still considers pay cuts or furloughs for state workers to be a last resort, and thinks U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has acknowledged the need for further economic aid bills for states’ economies to survive the pandemic.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.