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State ponders Roth’s request to publicize list of those in quarantine; Ige says ‘it’s a balancing act’

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A traveler checks in with TSA before heading to the terminal at Hilo International Airport last Friday.

The state is evaluating a proposal from Mayor Mitch Roth to publicly identify individuals who opt to quarantine after arriving on the island, Gov. David Ige said.

During a livestream Friday, Roth discussed additional measures Hawaii County could take to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus the Big Island.

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One of those potential measures, he said, includes possibly publishing the identities of travelers who choose to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival instead of offering proof that they have been vaccinated or tested negative for COVID-19.

Currently, the Safe Travels Hawaii program requires travelers to display proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test taken 72 hours or less before the last leg of their trip in order to bypass the quarantine.

“We are discussing that as we speak,” Ige said during a livestream Monday. “Right now, everyone who is in quarantine, we have a name and phone number and place of quarantine they told us when they arrive, and we have been following up to ensure that people are in quarantine.

“I know that Mayor Roth just believes it would require unlimited county police resources to be able to verify every single individual in quarantine, and he believes publicizing it and letting people know about who should be in quarantine would be a good way to increase enforcement,” he continued.

According to Ige, state Attorney General Clare Connors has been in discussion with the corporation counsel and state Department of Health.

“It is a balancing act,” the governor said. “We are trying to make sure we don’t drive the quarantine breakers even further underground. That would make it more difficult or … they would redouble their efforts to avoid quarantine.

“It’s something that we’re considering, and Mayor Roth definitely is somebody who wants to try it as a way to improve enforcement of the quarantine.”

In a phone conversation Monday, Roth did not provide an update about those conversations, but said the topic was broached at a meeting with the governor and other mayors as recently as last Friday. Another meeting is planned later this week. Typically, the DOH and attorney general’s office are in those meetings, too, he said.

Roth said he believes identifying individuals opting to quarantine does not violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a federal health information privacy law known as HIPAA, because it does not identify whether or not someone received a vaccine or was tested for COVID-19.

“I think if (the quarantine information is) in a place where it’s easily accessible, I think it’s something people would want to know,” Roth said. “It’s something the community would want to know. Right now, it’s difficult to enforce if nobody knows. … We know there are people who violate the quarantine rules.”

Ige previously asked that visitors postpone trips to the islands amid the surge of COVID-19 driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant.

Since that public request, the average number of daily arrivals has dropped from more than 30,000 daily to about 20,000 per day, he said Monday.

Ige also addressed questions from livestream viewers about more coronavirus testing for travelers.

With testing requirements now in place for some unvaccinated workers in Hawaii, the state has seen a surge in testing, he said, adding that in the last week, an average of 9,000 to 10,000 tests per day have been administered.

Ige said a post-arrival testing program would be a “huge challenge, and we don’t want to take away test capacity from those who need it in our community.”

The state, however, is considering whether to reinstate a pretravel testing program that required all trans-Pacific passengers to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure in order to bypass quarantine. I

In July, the state began allowing fully vaccinated passengers to avoid quarantine.

Citing rising COVID cases, Roth last month urged Ige to reinstate pretravel testing requirements for all trans-Pacific passengers, regardless of residency or vaccination status.

Currently, about a third of travelers arriving in Hawaii, both visitors and residents, opt to test prior to arrival, while the remaining two-thirds arrive with a vaccine exemption.

Ige also noted that last week, just 2% of the state’s COVID-19 cases were travel-related.

New cases taper off

The state Department of Health on Monday reported 461 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases statewide, including 82 on the Big Island.

An average of 567 new cases have been reported daily Sept. 5-11.

“It is getting a little bit better, but I think it’s still to early to call it a definite trend that would provide relief,” the governor said of current case counts.

Last week, the state was averaging more than 700 cases a day. The week before, the average number of new infections topped 800 daily.

“So, it is tapered off, but it’s still too many cases for us to really let our guards down,” Ige said.

Despite the ongoing surge, Ige said there won’t be another full-scale shutdown, like one that was implemented in the early days of the pandemic in 2020.

“It really doesn’t make sense from a couple of perspectives,” he said.

Nearly 74% of individuals in Hawaii have initiated vaccination, Ige said, and 65.5% have been fully vaccinated.

“So, you know, it is a different environment, the fact that so many in our community is vaccinated,” he said.

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However, other restrictions, such as a curfew on Oahu or further reducing gathering sizes, could be considered.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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