When the mandatory quarantine went into effect back in March, a woman flew into Honolulu and posted videos of herself violating quarantine on social media.
“One of the first people we caught was Aarona Lopez, she was the homeless woman that made all the headlines,” explained Angela Keen, the administrator of the Facebook group Hawaii Quarantine Kapu Breakers.
She was sick with pneumonia at the time and from her home she had a group of volunteers help trace Lopez down.
“It was really exciting and I felt like I was back in my news reporter days, and because I have those skills it’s really easy for me to find people and track people and I don’t even have to leave my home,” Keen explained.
“After we did the Lopez case, that was a big lesson for us and we realized not all the authorities involved in quarantine breaking are not all on the same page,” she said.
The group started with a few hundred members and now stands at 4,000 members.
She and others have lobbied at the state legislature and have built relationships with the Attorney General’s office and Visitors Aloha Society Hawaii (VASH).
“Whenever I get a name, I put a file together, do my reporter work, see what kind of a background this person has, whether they have a criminal record, and I shoot it off to the investigator and sometimes within 24 to 48 hours they’ve gotten them,” she said.
She said it’s all thanks to tips and leads from volunteers across several industries.
“We really rely on so many different parts: there’s people on the ground, there are people who tell on their neighbors, their relatives, their in-laws, we get messages from the mainland saying, ‘My friend just went to Hawaii and I told them not to go, they shouldn’t be there, I think you should know,’” she said.
She said they also have members who work at the hotels and resorts, help from security officers, airport workers and more.
“They’re all in our group and they’re sliding us information and we put that file together and we hand it off to the AG and boom, done, out of here,” Keen said.
To date, the group has helped apprehend 13 quarantine breakers on Oahu, and the recent 22 arrests on Hawaii island.
“They were the only people who broke quarantine who decided to fight it so they stayed in jail over the weekend and they had enough,” Keen said.
She said she saw a note on Instagram from one of the group members stating that they wanted to go home.
“I messaged them back and I said, ‘I can help you,’” she said.
Keen called VASH and the group was able to book flights home for each of the 22 members.
Keen said she has received hate mail from several people and said she relies on the tourism industry in her side job, and understands the importance of reopening Hawaii.
“I understand the concerns of reopening Hawaii and people getting back to work and getting Hawaii back open again,” she said. “But the kind of people coming here right now are not the people we want, they’re not people who spend money, that go to shopping centers, and put their money back into the economy, they just don’t do it, they don’t have the money.”
She said at the end of the day it’s about the safety of Hawaii residents.
“We know Native Hawaiians and kupuna have highest rate of coronavirus and the highest fatality rate so for me personally, I have a love for Native Hawaiians, our culture, and if we don’t have Native Hawaiians, then we don’t have Hawaii,” she said.
“So really that is what is behind this in our mission, it’s more than keeping people out, it’s really about keeping our neighbors safe, our community safe, relatives safe and our kanaka maoli,” she said.
She spent five weeks battling pneumonia back in March. “I can’t imagine a kupuna, or kanaka maoli kupuna or anybody getting so sick because someone got on a plane for a cheap ticket,” Keen explained.
She said all the arrests her group has been involved in were people staying at vacation rentals, which are still illegal to operate to anyone who is under the mandatory quarantine.
She said she is working with the legislature to find new ways to crack down on operators and even residents who offer their personal vehicles to visitors who are also under quarantine.
“There is a rise in cases but who wants to come to Hawaii and stay in your hotel room? Even if they break quarantine, there’s no luaus, no activities, no tours, it’s not fun. So why not come when the conditions are better, you’re going to keep everyone else safe, you’re going to keep the whole state safe, and come at a time when you can have fun, and spend your money and put it back into the economy,” Keen said.
People who witness someone breaking quarantine are asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org.