Ige: Still no decision on whether to push back plan to reopen tourism

Ige: Still no decision on whether to push back plan to reopen tourism
Hundreds of people turned out to a drive-thru test site Saturday in Waipio. (Source: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - After days of discussions with Hawaii’s mayors, the governor still hasn’t made a decision on whether to delay the state’s plan for reopening tourism on Aug. 1.

“The mayors and I have had productive meetings this week about the pre-travel testing program,” Gov. Daivd Ige said, in a statement.

“We are assessing the current situation in Hawaii and on the mainland, and we’ll make an announcement when we are satisfied that the plans will protect the health and safety of our residents and guests.”

The rising number of cases over the past few weeks — both in Hawaii and across the mainland — have raised concerns about Ige’s current plans to modify quarantine restrictions for trans-Pacific travelers next month.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim told Hawaii News Now on Friday he was concerned about the Aug. 1 date.

“My position remains steadfast in regards to pointing out to the governor and his task force that I could not accept the Aug. 1 or even moving up to August 16, or 15, rather because so many things were not in place yet to assure monitoring of people coming in from the mainland and how explosive things were on the mainland,” Kim said.

Kim added that county mayors agreed that they wanted systems in place before moving forward with Aug. 1 and that “these things must be done before we proceed with that plan. "

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell cast doubt Thursday on the feasibility of the state’s plan to reopen tourism Aug. 1, saying he no longer thinks allowing visitors to avoid quarantine starting next month if they test negative for COVID-19 is “safe for everyone.”

“I could see the date staying Aug. 1 if we were more rigorous about how visitors came in. Maybe you only allow people in who have a negative test with no quarantine condition,” Caldwell said, at a news conference. “The choices are difficult. Do you push it off by two weeks or a month?”

The mayor said multiple issues are triggering concern about the plan, which the mayors all supported when it was announced several weeks ago.

For one, cases are surging on the mainland, including in markets where visitors to Hawaii originate. Secondly, there’s a shortage of testing supplies nationwide ― and long lines for tests in some states.

And thirdly, Hawaii is also seeing a spike in new COVID-19 cases amid growing community spread.

“With all that, we’re re-evaluating the Aug. 1 deadline,” Caldwell said.

On Wednesday and again on Thursday, the governor met with the four county mayors, the Department of Health and other Hawaii leaders about the Aug. 1 plan to reopen tourism.

Under the plan announced late last month, visitors to Hawaii would be able to avoid the mandatory, 14-day quarantine if they present a negative COVID-19 that was taken no more than 72 hours before arrival.

But the details of how that plan would actually work have yet to be hammered.

And some have expressed concern that visitors who come without a negative test and flout the quarantine rules would be nearly impossible to track. (Quarantine breakers, they note, are hard enough to track now.)

The discussion comes as the nation grapples with record numbers of COVID-19 cases, driven by huge outbreaks in California, Texas, Florida and Arizona. At the same time, Hawaii’s unemployment rate remains among the highest in the nation and that’s unlikely to change as long as tourism remains shut down.

“We’re really struggling to figure out what we do next to thaw out our economy,” Caldwell said. “We recognize that without the return of visitors, we’re going to be hobbling along. How do we address getting people back to work and keeping our residents safe?”

This story will be updated.

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