HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Kauai Health Department reported four new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, its highest number since early January. Those cases will be reflected in the statewide total on Friday.
The recent statewide surge in cases comes as Kauai gets ready to rejoin the state’s Safe Travels program on Monday, April 5.
For months, Kauai travelers were required to stay in a resort bubble and take a second COVID-19 test three days later.
From December 2020 through March 2021, the island was averaging less than 100 arrivals per day. In March, there was a slight uptick, but nothing compared to the other islands receiving thousands of travelers daily.
Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said re-joining the Safe Travels program was timed with the county’s vaccine rollout.
Kauai has increased its contact tracing, hospitals have added capacity, and additional ICU beds are in place. However, Kawakami is mindful of the statewide uptick.
“That was the whole game plan from Day 1, was to be able to get as much people vaccinated as possible, get our most impacted employees and vulnerable population vaccinated,” he said.
Kawakami added, “We’re concerned, but we’re in a better place, and it’s going to require the community to continue to do what they’ve been doing.”
Since variants are spread the same way as COVID-19, Kawakami said people should continue to wear masks, maintain a safe distance from others, and avoid large gatherings. Currently, 25 people are allowed to gather outdoors on Kauai and ten people inside.
“We’re trying to strike a balance of maintaining public health and safety and making sure that the wheels of our economy continue to turn, and we can move forward,” he continued.
Some business owners have mixed feelings after a year of shutdowns.
“Certainly, we’re excited to have the visitors come back from a business standpoint,” explained Terry Gillingham, owner of Hawaiian Artisans. “But we’re also all concerned about the number of cases that might come along with that, and as a sidebar from that, we’re concerned that the mayor might shut us down again, if the cases get too high. And, honestly, I don’t know whether our business or many of the other businesses can sustain themselves if there’s another shutdown.”
Kawakami said if cases start to rise, the island’s tier system will kick in, putting restrictions on certain businesses and gatherings.
“If we get to a level of concern where we feel it’s necessary to opt out, we’re going to have a really hard look at it because it’s not our intent,” he said.
“Our intent and our main goal is to be able to proceed and advance without having to rollback into more restrictive tiers, but if we start seeing situations where our healthcare system starts to get pushed to the red line, we start seeing a lot of people getting sick,” Kawakami explained. “That tiered system is put in place to give us a guide and give our community a sort of guide as to what it looks like.”
He said the tier system will be revisited and account for the number of people on Kauai who have been vaccinated, so it won’t take as few cases to reach a new tier. There will also be many reminders for everyone to wear a mask.
“On Kauai, people will speak their mind if they don’t see something that sits well, because, you know, it’s about respect, and on Kauai respect is a huge thing,” he explained.
He said the government can’t control all situations either.
“Most of what needs to be done is a level of self-discipline and integrity from our community, to be able to do the right thing, to sort of understand that these tremendous sacrifices that none of us have ever anticipated that we would ever have to make in our lifetime, at times needs to be made for the betterment of our entire society as a whole,” Kawakami added.
Visitors who take a free voluntary COVID-19 test three days after they arrive will get discounts at over 70 businesses on Kauai. Hotels are also offering voluntary post-arrival testing too.
The Kauai Visitors Bureau said five additional mainland flights will be arriving daily starting Monday.