Hawaii clears Fed re-opening cycles twice as State keeps color-coded, no-timeline plan under wraps


The state will soon unveil a color-coded system for phases of re-opening related to COVID-19, but don’t expect a timeline to come with it.

Hawaii is nearing its third two-week cycle of low and declining COVID-19 cases, a benchmark the feds say would by now warrant even movie theaters reopening. Lt. Gov. Josh Green explained why Hawaii is taking a more conservative approach, but says he thinks we’re overdue for more openings.

Always Investigating reported last week that the state said they did not yet have a system for business reopening but hoped to roll one out soon. We’re told it’s close to going public.

“I hope we’ll get some serious announcements today or tomorrow. I know it’s coming,” Green said, “but in abstract terms a lot of people have given input on some thresholds of when we go from red to orange, orange to yellow and yellow to green.”

Gov. David Ige on Wednesday was not yet ready to lift the curtain, but said the new system will not come with a countdown

“Even the plan that we are working on does not have an explicit timeline for when things would be reopen,” Ige said.

Ige says instead it will cite conditions for phases, such as number of new cases, test and contact tracing ability, and health care system capacity.

“All of those would determine whether we go to the next phase of the reopening, so there will not be a plan that has an explicit arbitrary schedule,” Ige said.

So are we still red-flagged? Orange? Yellow? Or soon getting a green light?

“From my perspective having studied this we’re already in the green,” Green said.

According to federal guidelines, Hawaii has met the criteria for successive reopening phases several times already now.

The reopening directives the White House issued in April said anywhere with declining case numbers or a downward trend in positive test percentages can open a new phase every two weeks, starting with Phase 1 low-risk businesses, then Phase 2 medium-risk things like restaurant dining, and finally even larger group settings like movie theaters in Phase 3.

Hawaii’s positive test percentage has been dropping steadily since early April, today wrapping up the fifth week of that trend (2.79% of tests were positive as of April 9, versus just 1.64% of tests positive as of May 13). On that measure, Hawaii has cleared a full two of what the feds call “gating” cycles, which could already have warranted Phase Three re-openings.

Federal gate cycles status thus far, percent-positives metric

Hawaii has been in the single digits for new daily positives every day for almost a month, and on that measure Hawaii is closing in on the end of the second “gating” using the federal guidelines.

Federal gate cycles status thus far, case-count metric

We’re told Hawaii leaders are taking a more cautious approach in part because the big unknown is how to manage the continued risk from travelers who continue to arrive. More than 14,000 residents and more than 7,500 visitors have flown into Hawaii since the quarantine began.

“It’s been about a two-tone ratio of our local community returning versus people traveling here,” Green said. “The virus doesn’t distinguish between whether we’re local or travelers nor should we.”

And just yesterday, a returning Hawaii resident was found to have COVID-19 after an airport temperature screening led to an onsite COVID test.

“The large risk is the unknown on the mainland. They have not all seen a decline, and if travelers do come here it will be a de facto higher risk,” Green said.

Green is pitching a plan to have people get tested for COVID before flying here. He says the head of the CDC praised the idea in a conference call today.

“If you have the test you can come and go right through and enter the state without difficulty like you do when you get the preclearance from TSA,” Green explained, “versus if you came to the state of Hawaii and you hadn’t been tested you obviously would have a much longer and slower process to get back into the state.”

Congressman Ed Case has asked the FAA to require preflight testing.

“Such testing could include at least fever testing and, as available, on-site rapid COVID-19 testing, as now required by international airlines such as Emirates on some flight,” Case wrote to the FAA. “The requirement for enforcing these conditions would be borne by the airlines as a condition of accepting any intended passenger on any direct flight to Hawaii, and any airline would be required to deny boarding to any intended passenger with a fever… or who tests positive.”

Green says the risk from locals and visitors traveling to the islands shouldn’t hold back a full reopening of all island businesses meanwhile, however.

“We’re being hypercautious and conservative, but my personal opinion — just one person’s opinion — we already meet the standards for the green zone or the safe space, and therefore I think it’s safe to open all of our kamaaina economy right now,” Green said. “It’s going to have to get going, because for every week that passes, the frustration level rises, and also people become more noncompliant. When people don’t see progress, they finally throw their hands up and say, ‘well, I’m not going to listen.’”

Green says businesses in many sectors already adhere to strict health and safety guidelines, such as all the regulatory requirements on restaurants and personal-service providers, and he expects they’d be just as responsible following COVID-related precautions.

“It is overkill for sure to be preventing haircuts and nails getting done, and honestly I don’t even have fear of restaurants if they’re spaced appropriately because they’re still going to be careful,” Green said.

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