HTA doubling up its efforts to educate travelers about Hawaii’s COVID-19 rules

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Since the State of Hawaii’s pre-travel testing program began on Oct. 15, nearly 60,000 U.S. mainland travelers arrived in the …

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Since the State of Hawaii’s pre-travel testing program began on Oct. 15, nearly 60,000 U.S. mainland travelers arrived in the state.

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Hawaii averaged about 8,000 daily arrivals in the first three days of reopening. In the last week, the state averaged about 5,000 trans-Pacific arrivals, which is well below the 29,000 daily arrivals in 2019.

Statewide, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said hotels are averaging about 20 to 25% occupancy, while several hotels remain closed.

HTA President and CEO John De Fries said that of the 217 hotels they surveyed, 145 opened or opened partially on October 15.

“I think by December 1, you can expect about another 50 to come online,” he said. “Some have chosen to spend more time preparing themselves before they fully remobilize.”

He said other hotels have decided to wait and see how the pre-travel testing program goes, whereas other hotels rely heavily on international travelers.

“The success of Hawaii moving forward is going to depend on our ability to keep this COVID curve flattened permanently,” De Fries said. “It’s the only way that we can take the steps over the next two to three years, to begin to open at scale.”

Throughout the first week, many residents reported that visitors were not wearing masks or adhering to local rules. Some said that they were met with snide remarks from visitors when they advised them of the rules.

But Honolulu Police Department Chief Susan Ballard said that the majority of people violating county rules were residents.

“None of us should tolerate any kind of belligerent or, or confrontational conduct from anyone,” De Fries said. “Regardless of whether you reside here or you visit here, the virus doesn’t know the difference. So my suggestion is, if you encounter people who are not wearing a mask, I would encourage people to confront them in a way that’s friendly and hospitable.”

He said education is picking up at the airport and more signage will be around all airports and at baggage claim.

“We all need to do our part, but at HTA we will continue to double up on our efforts, and you are going to start seeing more signage, more reminders and baggage claim,” he said.

He said Governor David Ige has also done a personal message that will be viewed at airports statewide.

“Until we can get this behavioral change moving, we will have to continue, you know, repetitively doing this,” De Fries said.

“Everybody in the world knows you’re supposed to wear a mask. Not everyone will. If they don’t. They’re going to get cited by the police,” explained Lieutenant Governor Josh Green.

Since Oct. 15, there have been about 7,500 visitors and residents who were required to quarantine. They were either awaiting test results or they opted out of the state’s pre-travel testing program.

De Fries said hotels are issuing one-time keys to visitors who are in quarantine.

“Once you exit your room, you’re unable to get back in, which will trigger the security, you’ll return to the front desk to get a new key. And at that point, the staff has been advised to call security or law enforcement,” he explained.

He said that hotels have sectioned off floors, or wings, to accommodate visitors who may contract COVID-19 while on vacation. He said if staying at the hotel exceeds their ability to afford it, they’ll be referred to the state to find interim quarantine housing.

Lt. Gov. Green said a small percent of travelers will come in positive with Covid-19, about 1 in 1,000.

“Of the first 6,100 tests that were done on Big Island, follow up test, two were positive out of over 6,000,” he said.

Hawaii Tourism Officials Expecting Average of 2000-4000 Daily Arrivals

Hawaii recently reopened its borders to tourists who pass the rigorous COVID-19 testing protocols, resulting in a massive jump in transpacific arrivals.

Hawaii recently reopened its borders to tourists who pass the rigorous COVID-19 testing protocols, resulting in a massive jump in transpacific arrivals.

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, tourism officials revealed the number of arrivals jumped from 463 on October 14—the day before the pre-arrivals testing program went into effect—to 5,124 on October 17.

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While the influx of arrivals has been welcomed by the Hawaii tourism industry devastated by the coronavirus outbreak, the number of transpacific arrivals dropped to 2,637 on October 20, with officials now expecting an average of 2,000 to 4,000 people arrivals per day.

“The first few days were robust, but it’s been dropping off,” Pleasant Holidays CEO Jack Richards said. “I would describe the reopening as choppy.”

The hotel industry in Hawaii is still feeling the impact of COVID-19, as officials revealed most of the hotels that have reopened are only operating at around 15-to-20 percent occupancy.

For example, Oahu had a hotel occupancy of 21.3 percent in September, making it the lowest among the top 25 hotel markets in the United States and the only one with occupancy below 30 percent.

On Thursday, Hawaiian Airlines announced it would reinstate its long-awaited East Coast flights in December with twice-weekly nonstop service between Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport and Boston Logan International Airport and thrice-weekly service between Honolulu and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Hawaii To Welcome Back Travelers Starting October 15

Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB), is contracted by the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) for marketing management services in the …

Proof of a negative COVID-19 test from one of these testing and travel partners allow travelers to proceed without the 14-day mandatory self-quarantine. Steps of the new entry protocols, including first registering on the Safe Travels digital platform, can be found at HawaiiCovid19.com.

While eager to once again share alohawith travelers, Hawaii’s visitor industry recognizes the importance of proceeding with utmost care, and has established enhanced health and safety protocols to protect Hawaii residents, its workforce and guests. Travelers will be expected to join residents’ efforts to keep Hawaii safe by wearing a face covering while in public, and practicing good hygiene and physical distancing while enjoying Hawaii’s breathtaking natural beauty, extraordinary open spaces and unique experiences.

About HVCB

Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB), is contracted by the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) for marketing management services in the continental U.S. The HTA, the state of Hawaii’s tourism agency, was established in 1998 to ensure a successful visitor industry well into the future. Its mission is to strategically manage Hawaii tourism in a sustainable manner consistent with the state of Hawaii’s economic goals, cultural values, preservation of natural resources, community desires, and visitor industry needs. For more information about the Hawaiian Islands, visit gohawaii.com.

SOURCE Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau

Lee Cataluna: Hang On For Hawaii’s Iffy Reopening

Tourists could stay away in droves. COVID-19 could pack a big rolling suitcase and island-hop. Even if it all works out, it might not work out at a level that …

Thursday marks the next phase of Hawaii’s 2020 pandemic odyssey: the great experiment on whether requiring people coming into the state to test negative for the coronavirus within 72 hours before their arrival will a) keep the spread of the virus in Hawaii to a level of infections, hospitalizations and deaths that the state is OK with, and b) bring back tourism at a level high enough to revive and sustain hotel jobs, stores, restaurants and airlines.

Despite the mumbled assurances of Gov. David Ige that the state is ready to do this thing, the whole endeavor smells risky.

The pre-travel testing plan is better than nothing. It is better than taking people’s temperature at the airport (because, as every mom knows, a dose of Tylenol can bring down a fever in 30 minutes.)

But it is nowhere near foolproof. An incoming passenger could take a COVID-19 test, get a negative result, and spend the next three days going to maskless parties, running around town kissing people goodbye, or doing any number of risky things before getting on the plane asymptomatic but infected with the virus.

The chance of the virus riding in with a pre-tested passenger might be small, but it’s not zero. Remember when the goal used to be zero? Well, now we’re at the point where a total of 100 or more new cases a day isn’t supposed to scare anyone because we’ve decided we have to get back to business as usual. Reality didn’t change, but perception sure did.

Hawaii Govenor David Ige gestures as he gives a media briefing Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2020 in Honolulu, HI. The briefing was held to unveil new COVID-19 safety measures the state plans to implement upon re-opening to travelers on October 15th. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)Hawaii Govenor David Ige gestures as he gives a media briefing Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2020 in Honolulu, HI. The briefing was held to unveil new COVID-19 safety measures the state plans to implement upon re-opening to travelers on October 15th. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)

Gov. David Ige talks about the state’s pre-travel testing program. Starting Thursday, travelers with certain negative COVID-19 tests will be able to bypass Hawaii’s 14-day quarantine.

Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat

The perception of a mandatory 14-day quarantine for incoming passengers has sure changed, at least from the governor’s point of view. When Ige instituted a mandatory quarantine for all incoming passengers, we were meant to believe that it was a reasonable, effective approach to keeping more cases of the virus at bay. In reality, it was merely a suggestion to visitors and almost impossible to widely enforce.

Lt. Gov Josh Green said last week, regarding Kauai County’s plan to have visitors sit in their hotel for 72 hours and then get a second negative COVID-19 test before they could go run free on the island, that it wasn’t going to work because no one would come to Hawaii to sit in quarantine for three or four days.

No kidding.

From the beginning, Hawaii’s response to the pandemic has been marked by half-measures, hopeful thinking, and plans that nobody bothered to think through all the way to the real-life details.

Here we are again. Nobody knew the details of Ige’s plans for this big tourism reopening until Tuesday afternoon­, not quite the 11th hour, but still, pretty last-minute. He called it “comprehensive” and “the most advanced in the nation” despite it being cobbled together after intense pressure and criticism from the neighbor islands, and despite some details still in the “we’re in discussions” phase.

The state’s 14-day mandatory quarantine for travelers has been difficult to widely enforce.

Claire Caulfield/Civil Beat

At this point, Ige’s abysmal leadership is no surprise to anyone. The neighbor island mayors have gotten to the point where they don’t even attempt to hide the fact that they just try to work around him, like water flowing around a rock blocking the stream.

At least now we know it is possible to take neighbor island trips to Kauai and Maui and avoid quarantine with a pre-travel negative COVID-19 test. Now we know Mayor Harry Kim, who is on his way out, is still a stubborn badass who doesn’t like anybody telling him what to do.

There is an undeniable risk that “Safe Travels Hawaii” will all fall apart. Nobody is hoping for that, but the anxiety is palpable. Tourists could stay away in droves. COVID-19 could pack a big rolling suitcase and island-hop. Even if it all works out, it might not work out at a level that is sustainable.

Pandemic unemployment hasn’t just hit Hawaii, and vacation money is no longer burning a hole in people’s pockets. We might be right back to couch surfers and high-end vacation rentals, those visitors who eschew hotel rooms and Waikiki shops and restaurants. The idea of a second test upon arrival has turned into a screening available for those who volunteer. Volunteering for a nose swab sounds even less likely than quarantining inside a hotel room.

As Hawaii Tourism Authority President and CEO John DeFries put it, “This is an imperfect scenario being executed by imperfect people who have one thing in common – aloha for this state.”

OK, when he said it, it sounded better than looking at those words in print. He made it sound brave, not iffy. But so much of “reopening” to tourism is iffy, and when pressed on this point, everyone in charge goes back to the same old talking point: wear a mask.

That’s all we’ve got, two layers of cotton with elastic ear straps. Not our leaders. Not a medical miracle. Not a sturdy plan in place. Just wear your little mask and hope for the best.

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More Details Emerge On Hawaii’s Pre-Travel COVID Test Plan

The general terms of the plan remain the same as they have for weeks: people traveling to Hawaii from out of state – including tourists and returning …

After a flurry of confusion set off by various county officials voicing concerns that travelers would bring COVID-19 cases to their communities, the main elements of Hawaii’s plan to reopen to out-of-state travel appeared to solidify on Tuesday, two days before the Oct. 15 date set by Gov. David Ige.

The general terms of the plan remain the same as they have for weeks: people traveling to Hawaii from out of state – including tourists and returning residents – can sidestep the state’s 14-day quarantine by testing negative within 72 hours of departing for Hawaii.

Now, however, neighbor islands will be able to include a second test — free of charge to the traveler. The Big Island is making it a requirement upon landing while Maui and Kauai hope people will volunteer to get another test.

Governor David Ige before the surge COVID-19 testing press conference. September 1, 2020

Gov. David Ige on Tuesday said all of Hawaii’s counties are now on board with the state’s Safe Travels program to reopen tourism.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

For Tuesday’s announcement, Ige was joined by Lt. Gov. Josh Green, Department of Health Director Dr. Libby Char, and Hawaii Tourism Authority Chief Executive John DeFries.

Statewide, after taking a test administered by one of more than a dozen “trusted partners,” travelers are required to register with the state’s “Safe Travels” program, and upload their test results and answer a health questionnaire.

In broad terms, the program “will be implemented in all counties,” Ige said on Tuesday, bringing a sense of order to what had become an increasingly confusing situation.

Bringing tourists back to Hawaii is viewed as vital to restoring the state’s foundering economy, which has shed almost 100,000 jobs since the pandemic took hold in March, including tens of thousands in the hospitality and tourism-related retail sectors. One of Hawaii’s largest employment segments, accounting for about one in six jobs statewide, the tourism industry brought more than $1.5 billion in revenue into the state monthly at its peak before the shutdowns caused by the coronavirus.

That revenue has largely evaporated, much of it wages once paid to workers.

The issue for policymakers has been how to reopen the economy safely, so that a surge in cases does not cause another shutdown, and in a way that’s politically acceptable to a leery public that has at times been willing to sacrifice the economy for safety. The issue has been especially touchy on neighbor islands, where case counts have been lower than on densely populated Oahu.

The pre-travel testing program has long been viewed as a path to reopening; the question was how to implement it.

Although some testing procedures still vary by island – travelers to Maui and Kauai, for instance, will have the option of taking a second test a few days after arrival – in broad terms the mandatory test procedures are consistent.

The exception is Hawaii island. Under Mayor Harry Kim’s executive order, travelers arriving on the Big Island from out of state must also take a so-called rapid antigen test administered and paid for by the county at all three island airports: Ellison Onizuka International Airport at Keahole, Waimea-Kohala Airport, and Hilo International Airport.

Hawaiian Airlines aircraft parked at the Daniel K Inouye International Airport, interisland terminal side of the airport. June 11, 2020

One of the state’s “trusted partners,” Hawaiian Airlines will help administer tests to travelers under the state’s program.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Although less sensitive than the type of test required by the state, which is called a PCR test, the antigen tests are generally cheaper and can provide quick results – within 15 to 20 minutes, according to a statement issued by Kim’s office on Tuesday.

“This second test upon arrival to Hawai’i island will provide an extra layer of protection for our community,” Kim said in the statement. “Virtually, all medical and Coronavirus experts agree (on) the necessity of more than one test.”

Not quite.

In truth, the question of how many tests to require travelers to take before coming to a particular island had become a point of debate in the past few weeks leading toward the Oct. 15 date.

And during a Facebook Live interview last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who serves as the nation’s top epidemiologist as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, endorsed Ige’s plan with some qualifications.

Although the plan requires just one test, Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who’s leading the state’s pre-travel testing efforts, plans to screen 10% of travelers with a second, optional test to help determine if ill people are slipping through the cracks. And Fauci said that extra level of screening makes sense.

During the same interview, Fauci also raised the idea of doing what Kim has implemented: requiring a second, rapid antigen test as a second layer of protection.

On Tuesday, Green said the second test is a good idea but predicted it will pick out relatively few travelers not caught by the state-mandated test.

“Is the second test valuable? Of course,” Green said. “Will the second test make a huge difference? It will make a difference.”

A Numbers Game

The bigger issue could be whether residents practice the basics: staying 6 feet apart, wearing masks and avoiding gatherings like family get-togethers, weddings and funerals. Risks could be compounded as more people go back to work in hotels.

As Green put it, “It’s purely a numbers game.”

That is, there are simply many more residents to potentially spread the virus than there will be tourists. Ige said the administration expects only 2,000 to 3,000 travelers a day statewide for the first few weeks. That’s 10% or less than the 30,000 daily arrivals before the pandemic.

Green noted that Hawaii’s summer case surge, when new cases rose to more than 300 per day, happened when the quarantine was in place and few tourists were coming.

“We had our highest surges when we essentially had no travelers here,” he said.

That said, getting all islands to agree on even a general plan was tough. While Ige’s plan had for months envisioned just one test, county officials were increasingly calling for an additional test or tests in recent days. Only Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell seemed on board with Ige’s one-test regime, although the Honolulu City Council weighed in with a resolution calling for a second test along with a quarantine.

All of this contributed to a growing sense of chaos.

The lack of clarity just 72 hours before the program’s launch was summed up by Carl Bonham, executive director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, and others during Monday’s meeting of the House Select Committee on COVID-19, Economic and Financial Preparedness.

“What we’re hearing is continued confusion,” he said. “No one knows exactly what the rules are.”

All of that seemed to be cleared up on Tuesday. The question now seems to be how effective the testing program will be.

One thing seems certain, Green said: no amount of testing alone will stop the disease from spreading.

“Nothing will stop COVID from going through the cracks,” he said.

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