HONOLULU (KHON2) — Gov. David Ige is asking visitors and residents alike to restrict travel to essential business only as Hawaii sees an alarming rise in COVID cases linked to community spread.
“It’s not a good time to travel to the islands,” Ige said on Monday. “Restaurant capacity has been restricted. There is limited access to rental cars, and we know that the visitors who choose to come to the islands will not have the typical kind of holiday that they expect to get when they visit Hawaii.”
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Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi on Monday announced that all large gatherings on Oahu will be scaled back to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors beginning Wednesday, Aug. 25.
The mayor said the restrictions will stay in effect for the next four weeks or 28 days. Concerts, luaus, athletic events, funerals and weddings will be impacted. Restaurants will be allowed to continue operating at 50% capacity, but will be required to keep groups to 10 or less.
“We are seeing more COVID patients in our hospitals, and the ICU’s are filling up,” Ige said in support of Blangiardi’s decision. “I certainly encourage everyone to avoid large gatherings.”
According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, revenue per hotel room available was up 16.9% this July compared to July of 2019 before the pandemic hit. Room rates are driving that cost, but they could also be pushed even higher to keep visitors away.
Over 900,000 visitors came to the islands in July according to University of Hawaii at Manoa travel industry management professor Jerry Agrusa.
“How do we stop the tourists?” Agrusa argued. “In Maui, they’re worried that there’s just too many tourists. How do we slow it down? The mayor asked the airplanes to stop coming. Charge more money.”
Giovanni Pastrami partner Ryan Tanaka admits this will hurt some businesses, but he’s hoping to see a return to normalcy in the last quarter of the year.
“Today’s announcement by Governor Ige and Mayor Blangiardi was important, and a major step for the state,” Tanaka said. “Even if we see lower sales revenue less tourists, today’s announcement is far better to approach than a lockdown or even a vaccination mandate for employees and guests, in my opinion. That was a great decision to cancel events over 10 indoor and 25 outdoor and to maintain 50% capacity,”
Ige said hospitals are currently looking at regular, acute care beds to transition them to be able to take ICU patients.
Last weekend, Queen’s Health Systems held a news conference on Friday at Punchbowl to discuss “the disaster area” that was announced by the City of what’s happening at Queen’s West.
“It’s really a crisis out there,” Jason Chang, Queen’s Health Systems COO said on Friday. “The number of new positive COVID cases is just increasingly high, and we’re worried about that because it translates to more patients that are going to need emergency care in the hospitals, and between all the normal emergencies and COVID cases, it’s overwhelming our systems.”
Between Queen’s Punchbowl and West locations, 74 nurses will be helping beginning this week.
Ige said a lockdown is on the table if the number of cases continue to grow exponentially, however, he cannot provide specific triggers that would lead to that decision.
Agrusa says the state should re-implement pre-travel testing, and add post-travel testing for both residents and visitors.
Just as average daily hotel rates have increased revenue, he thinks the cost of testing will bring a higher quality of visitors to the islands who will spend more money.
“That will help us lower the caseload, make people know who they are so they could quarantine themselves, not have to spread, and then we will again be known as a place where it is the safest place, and with that people will pay,” Agrusa said.
In response to testing requirements, Governor Ige said that CDC guidance allows fully vaccinated people to travel domestically. Dr. Libby Char says the vast majority of cases right now are not related to travel and are caused by community transmission.
Find more COVID-19 news: cases, vaccinations on our Coronavirus News page
There were 571 new coronavirus cases reported on Monday: 359 cases on Oahu, 107 on the Big Island, 23 on Kauai, two on Lanai, 79 on Maui and one resident diagnosed out of state. Click here for in-depth breakdown.