HONOLULU (KHON2) — Take a pre-travel test or upload a vaccine card. Two simple options for travelers to Hawaii. But it turns out a lot of people — most of them Hawaii residents — are ending up in quarantine. Officials say that’s putting the islands at risk.
In addition to a high number of local and visiting travelers saying they’ll quarantine. We also found there’s not much being done to check that they’re actually doing it, leaving the state with a lingering loophole.
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Always Investigating analyzed travel data and found nearly 83,000 people just since June 1 had to quarantine when arriving in Hawaii, not providing a vaccine card nor getting a valid pre-travel negative COVID test.
And most of them, nearly 45,000 were locals. That’s more than one in 10 returning local residents skipping the vaccine or pretest screening,
About 1.5%, or just over one out of 100 visitors, did the same.
Always Investigating paired this up with health outcomes, and the state COVID data is startling. As many as one in five new cases of COVID at the peak of the travel season were attributed to Hawaii residents traveling and returning back home. That’s 20% of Hawaii’s cases hitting traveling residents versus 1 percent among visitors to the islands.
“Our people have traveled unvaccinated,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green said. “The mainland is overrun by the Delta variant. They are catching the Delta variant. If they don’t get tested and just come into quarantine, they’re spreading it to their family or close contacts. That’s it. “
Maj. Jeff Hickman, spokesperson for the state Department of Defense and Safe Travels, tells Always Investigating: “This particular group of travelers has been brought up by leaders for awareness and discussion. Currently no policy changes or decisions have been made.”
Health data show a much lower infection rate among visitors compared to traveling residents, at least as revealed by testing.
“Those numbers are low because they’ve either been fully vaccinated or tested within 72 hours and negative were negative within 72 hours of their travel,” Green said.
The outcomes are also drastically different for the most severe cases.
“I know people don’t want to hear this because they seem to be hell-bent on believing it’s tourists,” Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said. “But the very fact of the matter is I’m talking to the CEOs of our hospitals they’re seeing very few of any tourists come in. This is a local situation.”
With so much of the summer spread proven in the data to be connected to unvaccinated travel, who’s checking to make sure residents and visitors comply when they quarantine rather than showing a vaccine card or getting a pretest?
Always Investigating checked with law enforcement and found the state Attorney General Investigations Division is only assisting with quarantine enforcement on Oahu. This summer did fewer than 600 compliance checks resulting in four arrests.
Honolulu police don’t have summer data but say they gave 90 warnings, 110 citations and made 60 arrests over the past year since fall 2020. Maui, Kauai and Big Island police combined cited or arrested dozens this summer. KHON2 found 76 quarantine violation court cases initiated from enforcement efforts according to summer judiciary data.
“Returning residents and visitors subject to quarantine orders need to follow the requirements in the orders that they’ve signed to help protect our communities,” Hickman said.
Green says the state cannot force post-arrival tests on locals or visitors who don’t want to upload a vaccine card or get a pre-test, but he has suggested making health screening easier and hoping more people will opt for it before heading into a legitimate post-travel quarantine bubble.
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“We can do more,” Green said. “Everyone can take that upon themselves and get a test after returning home. If they do that, we’ll see the case counts drop from that subset of our cases and then we also will not get all the community spread that happens after that.”