HONOLULU (KHON2) — Back in April, the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii (VASH) had a program that helped send visitors back to their point of origin if they did not plan to quarantine in Hawaii.
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KHON2 learned that the fate of the program is now up in the air because funding is running out.
The president of VASH told KHON2 that the purpose of the COVID-19 Flight Assistance Program was to prevent the spread of the virus in the state. VASH believes that the program was successful and that they would like to continue through the end of the year.
“I believe that this program is a huge safety net to protect our people,” said VASH President Jessica Lani Rich.
To-date, about 280 visitors statewide were sent back. The common theme? Rich says many of them did not plan to follow the law.
“And we also had in that number–people who did blatantly go out to the beach and enjoy a Hawaiian vacation, posting on Facebook that they were not in quarantine,” she said.
Rich told KHON2 that some have criticized the financial use of the program, but explains that a lot of the people that they assisted paid their own way back home. Some of the flights were even donated. Rich says that the program is important because it helps protect residents.
“We don’t want people who have been flying all over the country, to different places, and in highly infected areas, getting off the airplane, and maybe you know, standing right next to you in a grocery store,” said Rich.
“I think that as time goes on, there’s probably going to be more times than not that we’re going to need their assistance,” said Senator Donovan Dela Cruz, who is the Chair of the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19.
Sen. Dela Cruz says that the state will have to gear up on enforcement as it starts to welcome visitors with pre-travel testing, which begins on Oct. 15.
“And when when people are identified as breaking quarantine, either they can go to jail or they can they can be sent home. The problem with putting them in jail is at some point, you may run out of space,” he said.
Sen. Dela Cruz believes that money from the CARES Act could be used for the program that’s running low on funding. Rich says it was funded by the state through the Transient Accommodations Tax.
“We will be in communication with our funding sources to see if they want to continue the program and we hope that they do,” said Rich.