Hawaii travel has largely returned to pre-pandemic levels with 36k visitor arrivals in Hawaii last Saturday. With the current COVID emergency proclamation set to expire at the end of November, Governor Ige held a press conference today enumerating new rules starting December 1. Many other people took part in the news conference including mayors, health, and travel industry stakeholders.
Some changes announced were expected, while others definitely were not.
New regulations to take effect December 1.
Current emergency rules expire on November 30. Starting December 1, each county will operate on its own. That means that regulations in terms of capacity limits, distancing requirements, etc. will be up to each mayor. Statewide rules on bars, gyms, and restaurants will end on November 30 and, again, these will become county rules as deemed appropriate. We were surprised to see this change in our state which is so small, interconnected, and reliant on visitors who need consistent rules and messaging.
Each island can have different rules, and the state will no longer oversee these. Ige said, “one significant change is that I will no longer require coordination of county orders and each can provide restrictions as necessary.” Ige said he’d been working with the mayors to arrive at these new regulations.
What will each county decide?
It isn’t clear how closely islands will work together to help offer consistent rules that visitors can understand. We hope that will be the case, but we’ll wait to hear rule changes announced by each of the islands in the next week.
Honolulu, also announced today how it plans to implement its new rules. There will no longer be 6-foot distancing requirements for restaurants, although testing or vaccination will be required for indoor dining. The city will lift capacity requirements for all indoor and outdoor events, which will also be allowed to serve food and drink. Patrons can either be fully vaccinated or present a test within the prior 48 hours. No contact tracing requirements for event attendees. Gyms will be able to operate at full capacity with masks.
What won’t change on December 1: vaccination, testing, indoor masks, Safe Travels.
Most importantly for visitors, vaccination or testing, as the two options to avoid quarantine, will remain in effect, indefinitely. Safe Travels will remain Hawaii’s web portal for proof of these, and that too is here to stay, perhaps for a very long time.
The Hawaii indoor mask mandate indoors will continue, with the governor stating, “I think it’s the one thing we will continue to have in place.” Hawaii is currently one of just a handful of states that have retained masks for indoor settings for both vaccinated and unvaccinated.
The governor said that there are no longer any metrics upon which the state can rely for any further changes to COVID rules. At one point he had said that at 70% fully vaccinated (which has been achieved), the state would eliminate Safe Travels.
Where are Hawaii’s current COVID problems coming from?
It is clear that COVID cases associated with travel are almost completely unrelated to visitors. Instead, they result from Hawaii residents returning to the state and subsequent community spread.
What else is Hawaii planning? New uses for Safe Travels.
The state is planning to use Safe Travels on a long-term basis. It is investigating transforming the platform to better manage tourism. Also, we continue to hear that the current State Department of Agriculture declaration will be moved to being electronic via Safe Travels. The governor also mentioned that earlier this week.
With COVID cases nationally at a weekly average of around 100k a day and more than a thousand average COVID deaths every day for months now, it seems clear that the US is not in a controlled phase of COVID.
Seemingly, talking directly to Hawaii, people like Dr. Fauci and Scott Gottlieb are saying that we need to be extremely mindful in lifting restrictions, as they may otherwise soon be reinstated. So while Hawaii is doing well at the moment, and today reported only 52 new COVID cases statewide, a COVID wave is still active on the mainland. And what we all know is that what happens on the mainland, and particularly in California, always proceeds what occurs in Hawaii.
That is a reminder of how difficult the pandemic is for the US healthcare system. Hawaii will always be in a much more precarious situation due to its physical isolation, small population, and other factors, which is one reason why the mask mandate will stay.
How do you think a plan for different island-by-island rules will work?