Gov. David Ige Saturday announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors and residents flying to Hawaii, set to begin at 12:01am Thursday, March 26. Calling it “the first of its kind in the nation,” Ige said he hoped it would send “a message to visitors and residents alike that we appreciate their love for Hawaii, but we are asking them to postpone their visit.”
Starting Thursday, arriving passengers at all Hawaii airports will be asked to fill out the state agricultural inspection form, which already requests names, phone numbers and addresses of each individual arriving in the islands. Visitors will be confined to their hotel rooms (or VRBOs or condos, although neither were addressed) and residents to their homes. The misdemeanor penalties for violating the quarantine include a maximum $5,000 fine and up to a year in jail. Only airline flight crews will be exempt from the quarantine, but will undergo temperature testing if they leave the airport premises.
“Currently, all of the positive COVID-19 cases have been linked to travel or contact with the traveler, and that’s why we believe these quarantine measures are important to further mitigate the spread of the virus and prevent it from being imported into the state,” Ige said. He added that random surveys indicate that the virus is not widespread in the community. However, actual testing remains limited.
Kenneth Hara, director of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, acknowledged that the mandatory quarantines would be “extremely challenging,” adding, “It’s going to be very difficult to enforce this.”
Holes in the plan exist. For example, when asked if visitors would be bussed to their places of quarantine, the governor said they would be responsible for finding their own transportation. He emphasized that so far, 80% of the cases have not come from tourists, but from Hawaii residents returning from other places.
The latest announcement may not be the last, Ige acknowledged. To mandate that all Hawaii residents shelter in place “is an extreme measure we may implement here. But that really is appropriate when there is widespread community spread of the virus.”
Saturday’s COVID-19 cases rose by 11 to 48 in the state, with two new cases on Maui, bringing the island’s total to 7. Oahu has 35 cases, Kaua’i and Hawai’i, 3 each. Ige said that currently, an estimated 20,000 visitors were in the islands. None will be affected by the quarantine. He said the Thursday date was established in order to give incoming tourists a chance to cancel their trips.
Ige said numbers for incoming visitors plummeted by 67% following his public request earlier in the week that visitors “postpone” trips to Hawaii for the next 30 days.
The expectation expressed at the press conference was that those numbers will drop further after Saturday’s announcement. As Hawaiian Airlines president and CEO Peter Ingram put it, “I suspect that most people, when they become aware of this news, are going to choose to postpone their vacation to Hawaii. I don’t think there’s much appetite for spending 14 days in a hotel.”
Several hotels on Oahu, mostly in the western resort development of Ko Olina announced their closures on Saturday. They include the Four Seasons, Disney’s Aulani, the Ko Olina Golf Club and Ko Olina Marina. Mayor Michael Victorino told the Maui County Council Friday that seven hotels would close, but a request for clarification on the hotels or their locations was not answered by his staff.
Ige’s announcement came at the end of a week that saw doctors (Lt. Governor Josh Green) and politicians (Honolulu City Council, state House leader Scott Saiki, and South Maui Rep. Tina Wildberger, among others) individually demand that Ige take more stringent action by ordering all residents to shelter in place and that the governor temporarily halt all travel to Hawaii. Everyone agrees that “the most isolated community on the planet”—as Ige put it– possesses extremely limited medical facilities to handle even residents during this pandemic.
On Saturday, more than 40 Maui health providers sent a letter to Ige, Mayor Michael Victorino and others predicting up to 3,000 deaths from the virus in the next 10 days if an immediate shelter-in-place order wasn’t issued for everyone currently in Hawaii. The signers accused government officials of electing “to not interact with our professional community to seek our professional opinion or at least listen to our recommendations.”
Lt. Gov. Green, an emergency room doctor, appeared on a national Fox News broadcast hours before Ige’s press conference to announce that an “order” was coming to prevent anyone except residents and medical personnel from flying to Hawaii. When asked about Green’s statements, an Ige spokeswoman responded, “The Governor speaks for the state.” Green could not be reached for comment.
The mandatory quarantine will be enforced by individual counties, the governor said. An email asking Mayor Michael Victorino’s staff for details on local enforcement efforts was not answered Saturday.