Hawaii Island proposes beach closures, pre-travel test as COVID-19 cases soar

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawaii Island Mayor Mitch Roth sent a proposal to Gov. David Ige to shut down beaches and parks and bring back the mandatory pre-travel test for all incoming travelers as COVID-19 cases continue to soar statewide.

Health officials said being outside was safer than being indoors in 2020, but with the delta variant, they say being outside is not enough protection from catching the highly contagious variant — even with mask-wearing.

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Mayor Roth said Hawaii Island is being overwhelmed by the delta variant, hospitals are full and he said some patients are so sick they should be flown to Honolulu.

“But Honolulu’s hospitals are filled up,” he said. “We have great concerns, we have people who have been waiting in ER’s for, not just hours, but days because they can’t get a room.”

“I guess if you’re not going to the hospital and your family members aren’t dying, some people aren’t considering it to be an issue, but we’re seeing people really struggling,” Roth said. 

He said over 90% of the people that are hospitalized on the Big Island are unvaccinated.

“Almost everybody in our ICU is unvaccinated, almost everybody dying is unvaccinated. So you know, people say, ‘are these things working?’ Yeah, they’re working. They’re designed to keep people from dying and getting seriously ill. And that’s exactly what’s happening when the people who are vaccinated, we’re not seeing them dying, we’re not seeing them getting seriously ill, if they go to the hospital, they’re staying for a couple of days vs. a month. That’s pretty significant,” he continued.

“At this time, we have our emergency rules in front of the governor for his review and his approval,” Roth said.

Mayor Roth said beach gatherings are part of the issue.

“We’d still allow people to go surfing and fishing and do those kinds of activities,” he explained. “We just don’t want them jam-packed like sardines, and that’s kind of what we’ve seen recently.”

“As a community, and we need to take bigger responsibility of doing the right thing, not gathering in mass groups, wearing our masks, socially distancing, getting vaccinated,” Roth added.

He said enforcement for large house parties will pick up and he is also requesting the state go back to pre-testing all travelers.

“We sent a request to go back to pre-testing everybody coming to the state, whether they’ve been vaccinated or not because we know a lot of people have been getting the virus, our numbers are higher today, I think than they’ve ever been,” Roth said.

From Sunday, Aug. 15, through Thursday, August 19, 142,826 people have entered the state; 99,597 used their vaccine card to bypass quarantine and 31,618 took a pre-test that came back negative.

There are also 2,997 people who entered and should be in quarantine, half (1,486) are residents and half (1,511) are visitors.

“Definitely a pre-travel test for everybody will definitely reduce the probability to transmission,” said Dr. Thomas Lee, University of Hawaii epidemiologist.

Some health experts believe travelers, including returning residents, should pay for their own post-arrival test as well.

Mayor Roth said he would also like to implement a post-test again.

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“Even with vaccines, you have the potential for fully vaccinated to carry them and potentially spread it, it’s still low, but the possibility still exists,” Dr. Lee said.

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