Hawaii has delayed the start of its pre-travel testing program to October 1, yet almost no one expects travel to resume then either. So what is the reality of when will Hawaii travel reopen, and what is going on here in Hawaii? Also, what about the upcoming holidays and winter season? We are getting questions from readers as the end of the year and 2021 travel seasons are in reach.
The pre-travel testing program, which was previously scheduled to start both in August and then in September, will eventually permit all trans-Pacific travelers to bypass the mandatory 14-day quarantine when they produce proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of arrival. Due to a lack of testing capability both within Hawaii and on the mainland, together with a recent spike in cases, however, the state has twice postponed the program.
Winter remains a fluid situation.
Hawaii remains in uncharted territory with escalating new virus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. This week, Honolulu’s H3 freeway tunnel is closed for two days in order to become a mass testing location for COVID-19.
We have no sense yet that much of anything will be different in terms of reopening come October 1. That as the state continues to fail in planning and communication regarding even what the basis of travel resumption will eventually be. First, we were told it was that we were waiting for the CVS testing agreement. Then we were told travel might resume with international travel bubbles. After that, the concept of Hawaii resort bubbles was approved. Yet all of those conversations appear to have gone completely silent!
Whatever Hawaii is thinking, it is of course complicated by outbreaks here and in key mainland gateway cities. But with little transparency, it is precisely the lack of communication that is the greatest concern to travel stakeholders, including those needing to return to work at some point.
The Hawaii travel industry continues to expect a prolonged shutdown. That as we learn largely from your comments that some hotels and some airline flights for October are already being canceled.
Even when travel does resume, there is no anticipation of a big influx of visitors to start. So it is obvious that a phased, gradual resumption will take place of its own accord.
Safe Travels Hawaii Page is now live.
When you do return to Hawaii, the Safe Travels Hawaii website has gone live (it’s just a one-page form essentially). Facial recognition scanners are coming on board later this year too. You can read about all of that in Arriving Hawaii Visitors Can Expect These Changes Ahead.
Heads just beginning to roll – Bruce Anderson, Department of Health.
In the first of long-overdue moves, the state director of its Department of Health is out. The governor said, “Bruce has served the people of Hawaii…through some rough times, including through the extremely challenging months of the COVID-19 pandemic. I wish him well as he relaxes and enjoys time with family and friends.”
Our interpretation: Bruce was likely fired, but that just isn’t how things get handled here in Hawaii. His termination had been called for by many including U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard. Senator Brian Schatz also criticized both the health department and the Ige administration. Lieutenant Governor Josh Green repeatedly called for new leadership at DOH. You may recall that Anderson touted the long-awaited agreement with CVS to provide critically needed testing for inbound Hawaii travelers. That agreement was never seen, and nothing of the kind has materialized to date. Anderson also failed to properly implement contact tracing at a time when Hawaii had one of the lowest infection rates in the US., among other shortcomings.
Out next may be state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park, who has also been widely criticized by the state’s medical community. Her responsibilities include the investigation of infections, disease mapping, testing, and prevention. She also is the chief advisor to the state and county governments. Dr. Park is also critiqued as being condescending, isolated, and not open to differing viewpoints.
Where is the new leader at Hawaii Tourism Authority?
Monday was the last day for Chris Tatum, head of the troubled, yet all-important, Hawaii Tourism Authority. He announced his unexpected departure in early June. Last week, in a highly unusual move, the HTA said it had offered that role to John De Fries. Typically such replacements are announced only when accepted, rather than when offered. Further, there has been no word since that then as to whether John accepted the $300k position.
HTA said De Fries was selected out of more than 300 applications it received. HTA board chair Rick Fried said, “The board felt John would do an excellent job as HTA’s new president and CEO having generational roots in Hawaii and given his vision for the future, which is so needed in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
De Fries is a Waikiki born and raised Hawaiian native with decades of experience in the tourism industry. He was executive director of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, headed research and development for the Big Island, and was president of Hokulia, a Big Island residential community. Currently, De Fries heads a hospitality and real estate consulting firm, Native Sun Business Group. We were not able to locate a website for that business.
Public Safety head’s sudden departure
Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda is also out. Ige announced that Espinda would “retire” effective October 1 with virtually no notice. The Hawaii Government Employees Association and the United Public Workers union demanded that he be replaced. He is widely blamed for the state’s abysmal failure to deal with COVID-19 at the Oahu Community Correctional Center. The Hawaii Senate Public Safety Chair had rejected his confirmation even before this, while the staff at the jail complained about his leadership, which has resulted in nearly 300 infections, due to lack of isolation for incoming prisoners and lack of protective equipment, among other things.