Green talks tourism as virus cases continue uptick

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Two teens look over the railing to view Rainbow Falls on Tuesday in Hilo. Little footprints mark where visitors are allowed to stand while viewing the falls.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Tuesday there’s “good news, bad news” about the possibility of reopening Hawaii to tourism.

Speaking on Facebook Live, Green said Japan’s announcement that Hawaii is a safe travel destination is the good news.

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“Historically, Japan does about 15-20% of all our travelers and 30% of all the economic activity, which actually could go up,” said Green. “Because I expect people … when they do trips, to do them longer, given the amount of work it takes to get tested, the amount of time it takes to plan your trip, and the amount of time people have not been able to travel for awhile, for six months.”

Although no timeline was disclosed for potential Japan-Hawaii travel, Green said he thinks travel between the islands and Japan is “going to open smoothly” because face masks were already everyday public attire for many in Japan, and social distancing is the societal norm.

“I don’t think we’re going to see any increase whatsoever (in coronavirus cases), because it’s such a respectful, thoughtful and meticulous culture about these kinds of things. I think we’re going to be fine,” he said.

The bad news, according to Green, is Sept. 1 — still Gov. David Ige’s publicly stated target date for allowing out-of-state travelers to arrive without a mandatory 14-day quarantine, provided they have tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of departure to Hawaii.

“The kind of travelers that we don’t want is irresponsible travelers that come for the cheapest of flights and feel invulnerable,” Green said. “That’s what we drew some attention from when we talked about the initial reopening. And we are worried, still, about the number of cases in a lot of different parts of the country.

“… It’s also difficult, because right now the length of time to get a test has increased on the mainland.”

Green said he, Ige, and Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, the state’s adjutant general and Hawaii Emergency Management Agency director, are keeping a watchful eye on the increasing number of coronavirus cases in Hawaii and monitoring the planned reopening of schools next month.

The state logged 47 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the statewide total to 1,757, according to Green.

“It took us five months to get to 800, then it took us one month to get to 1,700,” he said. “So it gives you an idea of the impact, and how quickly things can geometrically increase.”

After a record 64 new coronavirus cases Friday — which was surpassed Saturday with 73 cases — Maui Mayor Mike Victorino submitted a formal request to Ige to reinstate a 14-day quarantine for interisland travelers, which Ige lifted June 16.

Victorino told reporters the Oahu daily case totals have “been extremely high, and it’s passed some of the trigger points we have discussed at some of our meetings about stepping back, if necessary.”

Big Island Mayor Harry Kim said he understands Victorino’s position, saying, “There’s a lot of concern from everybody … watching figures.”

“At this point, I am not there,” Kim said when asked his thoughts about reinstating an interisland travel quarantine.

“Our numbers are still low,” he said. “I’m very, very grateful for that, for sure. But I will say this. I am also concerned, and we need to get a better handle on all traveling.”

Like Kim, Green also isn’t ready to re-establish an interisland quarantine.

“In spite of the surge of cases the last two weeks and the last full month … very, very few cases have occurred on the neighbor islands,” he said. “We still have not had any fatalities … on the Big Island, for example. We’ve had, typically, only one or two cases in most of the other counties, in a day.

“So there’s not been a big surge, even though we’ve had free travel between counties from Oahu.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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

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