Around 16,000 trans-Pacific travelers arrived in first 48 hours of reopening


HONOLULU (KHON2) — It’s been two days since the state reopened to trans-Pacific visitors and the number of passenger arrivals greatly surpassed what Hawaii saw during the past months.

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The numbers are still well-below the state’s daily average of 30,000 arrivals in 2019.

According to Hawaii Tourism Authority, 7,853 people arrived from the mainland on Friday. Most of them are visitors and about 1,300 were returning residents.

On Thursday, the total number of trans-Pacific travelers to Hawaii was more than 8,200.

About 3,200 of the travelers who arrived in the first 48 hours have had to quarantine, either because they’re waiting for their pre-travel test results, or they opted out of the state’s pre-testing program.

On Saturday, about 1,100 of the 3,200 were released after receiving negative test results.

The first 72 hours of reopening left many feeling uneasy.

“There seems to be some rough spots that we really got to smooth out,” said Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, Chair of the COVID-19 Senate Special Committee. “We really need a lot more supervision at the airport, there’s been quite a bit of people clustering around baggage claim and people are not practicing social distancing.”

One Maui resident told a visitor with a suitcase in hand to put a mask on in public. She was met back with an expletive remark.

“At some point, you just kind of get tired of telling them, you know, you do but you don’t,” explained Jerilyn. “You just continue to try to educate them, they don’t want education. We’re not law enforcement.”

Dela Cruz said more needs to be done to let visitors and returning residents know the state and county rules

“I think a lot of people need the training, so that when they deal with visitors and/or customers, they know how to how to properly deal with the situation so that we can prevent any kind of infection,” he said. “The concern is that, because we don’t have the enforcement capability right now, we’re not having the messaging. With the supervision, it’s not occurring. We still are unsure about what’s our testing strategy and our full contact tracing strategy, that some people feel we’re taking a risk. We still have schools yet to open.”

Sen. Dela Cruz said he isn’t against reopening but many of his constituents have told him, “If you’re going to open, make sure you have all these other things in place. Whether it’s the second test, making sure that we can enforce the quarantine, a lot of people are concerned about illegal Airbnb’s again and people renting cars from different apps or online. So, we really got to focus in on an enforcement.”

Angela Keen, who has been helping law enforcement capture quarantine breakers, said something needs to be done soon or else fights could break out between visitors and residents.

“I predict by next week, if this whole mask-wearing and social distancing education isn’t out there for the tourists, that locals and tourists are going to get into fistfights,” she said.  

Sen. Dela Cruz said he doesn’t know if all hotels are still issuing one-time keys for people who are supposed to quarantine and if law enforcement is prepared to ask for proof of a pre-test.

“There is a lot of follow-ups that needs to occur, and I’m not sure if we cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s just yet,” he said.

Keen said there are more people to watch now that thousands of people are arriving daily, but the Safe Travels app and knowing who did and did not get tested makes the job a bit easier.

“We’re now getting more people into quarantine than we had when the state was closed, so that’s a concern,” she explained. “If hotel managers know because they may, if a resident see something’s suspicious. All I need is a name. That’s it. And I can check it with the Attorney General’s office and they’ll tell me.”

She said the best way to keep an eye on travelers who opted out of the pre-travel test is a quarantine hotel, which the state auditor recommended last week.

“It’s the only way to make sure that they don’t break quarantine,” Keen explained. “That they’re not a risk to others, that they are contained, and that they have the medical services that they need.”

She said more enforcement also needs to be on vacation rentals, which are currently illegal on Oahu.

“We don’t want visitors going into neighborhoods where, god forbid, if they have something, they spread it in the grocery stores, in the neighborhoods, talking to neighbors in the community, it shouldn’t be there. They should only be in tourist areas right now,” she said.

While the state recommends people continue to wear masks, socially distance and wash their hands, some argue it won’t be enough with the thousands of arriving passengers who are unfamiliar with the state and county rules.

“I fear that by Thanksgiving, we’ll be back in a complete lockdown again,” Jerilyn said.

She said she feels uneasy because there were hundreds of visitors at Kahului Airport not social distancing while waiting in long lines to get verified.

“People weren’t even two feet apart. Some of them have masks, some of them don’t, you know, it’s evident from the minute they got off the plane, they’re not even social distancing. That’s being watched with security, airport personnel, you know, what have you. What do you think they’re going to do when they’re not being watched?” she said.

Until more measures are put in place to inform all arriving passengers of the state and county rules, Sen. Dela Cruz recommends people to avoid unnecessary contact with people you don’t know.

“Keep to your bubble, really focus and keep into your bubble so that you can protect others,” he said.

He said the COVID-19 committee has been trying to meet with the Department of Health for the last few weeks but the DOH has delayed the meetings “for quite some time,” he said. “We’re anxious to get back because they’re quite a bit of constituents are telling us that they would like answers so we hope to get back soon.”

He added that the COVID-19 committee will also be taking a tour of John A. Burns School of Medicine, which launched a testing lab in partnership with the City and County of Honolulu.

He said they’re also in touch with Queen’s Medical Center and other health care providers so they can get a better assessment of what’s going on and how they can improve the situation.

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