Some question enforcement with thousands of daily travelers expected

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The pre-travel testing program is set to begin on Oct. 15, but some are concerned about enforcement.

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Visitors and residents who do not get an approved COVID-19 test 72 hours before arrival will have to quarantine.

The state’s Safe Travels app was rolled out on Aug. 28, but since it’s been in use, people have slipped through the cracks and have been able to break quarantine.  

“I have direct contact with some of the screeners who screen these people when they come in at the airport,” explained Hawaii Quarantine Kapu Breakers administrator Angela Keen.

“People are confused, travelers are confused and sometimes they use that confusion as an excuse,” she continued.

She said that just last week, the state started screening visitors who stated that they were staying at vacation rentals, which have been non-essential and illegal in Honolulu for months.

“The travelers are pulled to the side and they’re told, ‘You cannot quarantine in a temporary vacation rental, you must quarantine in a hotel,” she explained. She said visitors then get angry that they cannot stay at their original planned accommodation.

So, some have come up with a costly way to break the rule.

Keen said people will rent a hotel room, leave some belongings in their room, not check out of the hotel, just exit a side door past hotel staff and check-in to their vacation rental; while paying for the hotel room as well.

“That’s totally unacceptable,” said Senator Donovan Dela Cruz, who is the chair of the Senate Committee on COVID-19. “And that’s where I think we have to do a much better job on follow up with quarantine, and we really got to get better communication from hotels.”

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said that vacation rentals remain under the first tier. “Legal or illegal, they are deemed non-essential and cannot be opened and it’s the very reason we are talking about this now, making sure that people follow quarantine.”

“If you come in without a test, or you got a test you don’t know your result, you got to quarantine. Hotels will be able to enforce because they know who should be in the rooms, and who shouldn’t. They get a one-way key. That doesn’t work in a vacation rental. There’s no way to enforce and get compliance. Right now, we don’t want to endanger the people of Oahu by allowing this kind of thing to happen. So now they are closed. In Tier 2, we will be looking to open them up, those that are legal in vacation areas,” Mayor Caldwell explained after a press conference on Saturday.

Once a traveler arrives in Hawaii, they will be required to upload their negative test result into their Safe Travels app which will allow them to rent a car, check-in at a hotel and do certain activities.

But with thousands of visitors checking in daily, how will hotels know who has to quarantine or not?

“All that information is tabulated and then given to each of the county police departments including the City and County of Honolulu Police Department,” Mayor Caldwell explained. “They know who should be in quarantine and who shouldn’t. If they find someone who is out at the beach, who should be in their hotel room quarantining, they will be cited and taken back to the hotel to quarantine.”

Keen said that the Attorney General’s Office has been crucial in investigating and arresting quarantine breakers. She believes that the AG’s office should receive CARES money to expand its investigation team.  

“They can hire more special investigators, they can give them over time, and we can work with them and really have somebody on-call after hours,” Keen said.

Senator Dela Cruz said Hawaii Governor David Ige has more funds available.

“I think the public would like enforcement. We need enforcement so that we can make sure we limit the spread of the disease,” he said.

A test upon arrival is also being discussed by some state and county leaders and health experts.

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