We didn’t really see this coming. Governor David Ige tonight approved the request from Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami, to shut the island down entirely to vacation travel. Effective next Wednesday, December 2, 14-day quarantine for all arrivals will be mandatory. That is true no matter whether arrivals have obtained a negative test result or not. The duration of the quarantine-based shutdown is not specified at this time. It will shut down virtually all vacation travel to the Garden Island and nearly all flights.
Visitors: Kauai visitors who have already purchased travel plans are left on their own to figure out how to proceed, with no indication of whether this could last for weeks, or even much longer. We hope to have more information and the criteria for reopening in an update soon.
Residents: While we don’t have numbers, it is a certainty that the majority of working Kauai residents are directly or indirectly involved with tourism. This is devastating news for many at the beginning of the holiday season. This also comes as many businesses have just reopened, including the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort only days ago. Restaurants are barely hanging on by a thread. And those frankly are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the economic impact.
The governor said, “The unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases on the mainland and the rise in community spread on Kaua‘i are of significant concern for the Garden Isle. We must protect Kaua‘i residents and visitors and ensure that Kaua‘i’s hospitals do not become overwhelmed. Kaua‘i county currently has the fewest number of ICU beds in the state, and private providers are seeking ways to increase capacity. This moratorium aims to stabilize the situation on Kaua‘i.”
In looking at COVID statistics, we see Kauai has one of the lowest numbers of active cases in the last 14 days. Only 35 on Kauai compared to 80 on Maui, 122 on the Big Island, and 1,095 on Oahu. The state reports that there are 18 active cases as of today and there are zero hospitalizations.
Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami justified his request as follows, “We are facing alarming COVID-19 numbers on our island (Kauai) as well as across the nation. This is not just a tourist problem. Nearly half of our recent travel cases are Kauai residents who returned home. We know that a single, pre-travel test has not stopped the virus from reaching our island and we are saddened to report our first on-island death. We must take action to prevent the further spread of disease here.”
This on-again, off-again approach to allowing travel, and by what rules, however, is going to literally kill Kauai tourism and will have both a short-term and much longer-term impact. If you read Beat of Hawaii’s comments, we need to say no more.
How this shutdown came to be.
As we said previously, the governor placed himself in an interesting position, when, early on, he allowed the mayors to make their own decisions regarding the handling of COVID rules. He subsequently began taking back control. In the most recent example before today’s approval, Kawakami proposed requiring arrivals to take a second test 72 hours after arrival and to be on quarantine for just the 3 days until that test. That proposal, however, was not approved by the governor.
Kawakami further suggested that opting-out of Safe Travels would have the island remain on the Tier 4 level of restrictions. He said, “Opting out of the Safe Travels program would be independent of our tier system, which means we could stay in Tier 4 for a longer period of time. It makes no logical sense for us to move tiers while still allowing more travelers. We shouldn’t penalize our local people by restricting activities, such as youth sports when that’s not the current source of infection.”
Not everyone agrees with the decision to remain at Tier 4 while shutting down the majority of Kauai’s business. One suggestion of a different approach comes from Beat of Hawaii reader, Jeanne who wrote, “As a Kauai resident I think Kauai should be at Tier 3. I don’t think this is a big sacrifice, although it may be an unpopular opinion. Moving to Tier 3 will help Kauai to mitigate covid.” Tier 3 would reduce the size of gatherings on the island. It was set to be implemented perhaps as early as next week due to the rising number of cases. It has previously been proposed that the island would not attempt to opt-out of pre-travel testing until Tier 2.
What are your thoughts?