Hanalei Bay Kauai | Beat of Hawaii

Time Bomb Ticking: Life on Kauai Now

Kauai is in uncharted territory, marching to its own beat. As of today, one person is hospitalized with COVID, and 11 are in isolation. And while the rest of the state welcomes visitors who meet strict testing requirements, Kauai is closed to tourism. A mandatory 10-day quarantine is in effect.

While health is of paramount importance, we are gravely concerned too about our Kauai businesses who survive on tourism revenue and the workers they employ. Now the question is how many will remain open. We don’t know how long this will go on with Kauai not having tourism. According to Lt. Governor Green, he does not expect any changes at least until after the new year.

The Kauai Chamber of Commerce CEO said, “Small businesspeople stand to lose everything that they have worked a lifetime to build and, in some cases, generations to build.” 

As just one example, Monkey Pod Jam’s Cafe is a Beat of Hawaii favorite that is closing, although you can shop online with them through December. According to the company, “We are permanently closing the Monkeypod Jam Café on December 31st….with our mayor closing the island to tourism, this makes the most sense.” They hope to return later and said, “Monkeypod Jam will not be going away, but hibernating for a season to emotionally recover and decide how to best serve our island.”

Its owner, Aletha Thomas, is a friend, and longtime fixture on-island who has hosted cooking workshops, special dinners, holiday cookie swaps, and more over the years. We’ve attended many of their functions, held meetings there, and enjoyed countless meals. We already feel the loss, and even more than that, we picture the employees’ faces.

Was it essential to close Kauai when the other islands continue to welcome tourists? Only time will tell. Lt. Governor Green says he “sincerely” supports each of the island mayors but doesn’t feel Kauai is doing better than the rest of the state in terms of COVID following its closure. Green said, “Kauai only had seven hospital admissions in seven weeks.”

Kauai reopened on October 15. Then it closed again on December 2.

Together with the rest of Hawaii, Kauai reopened with new statewide rules. Testing within 72 hours of departure became the alternative to the then 14-day quarantine (now 10-days). It was great news for people who work here in the state to return to employment. Finally, they saw some light at the end of the tunnel. Visitors were happy to come back again too.

On Kauai and throughout the state, businesses, from hotels and vacation rentals, to restaurants and activity providers brought back employees, and things started to reopen. It was all the news, and there was excitement, albeit with obvious concerns.

Mayor opted out of the Safe Travels program.  

Kauai shuttered on December 2 and is closed to tourism given the current 10-day quarantine. That as of December 2, following Governor Ige’s approval for the island to leave the program. Beat of Hawaii commentors said they were shifting their Kauai vacations to other islands or, in even more cases, going elsewhere entirely. Many regulars said, unfortunately, that this wavering was simply the final straw. 

Hotels and vacation rentals have since closed down again, restaurants and activities too, and we are hearing that far bigger and more disastrous closures are looming (think major hotel). We know of many businesses that have shuttered permanently and have the nagging sense that we really haven’t seen the worst of the economic impact yet. Besides, both furloughs and job eliminations are now pending for state employees, according to the governor, which will significantly impact Kauai.

Before the opt-out, Kawakami had asked the governor for modifications to the Safe Travel program to allow a second mandatory test for Kauai arrivals. He wanted that change to be in concert with a shorter mandatory quarantine until the second negative test results were obtained. The governor said no, that he was disinclined to island-by-island modifications to Safe Travels. Given that, the choice became one of either in or out, Kauai left the program.

Is Safe Travels Really Safe?

According to the person in charge of Safe Travels, physician/Lieutenant Governor Josh Green, “It’s exceeding expectations. It’s actually working very well.” He said there are fewer COVID cases since October 15, and hospitalizations have gone by over 50%. He said the positivity rate went from 2.8% to 1.8%.

What’s next for Kauai.

We don’t anticipate seeing any changes before year-end in two weeks. Thereafter, the governor will reconsider what others are proposing. That includes changing the 72 testing period to 96 hours and implementing a second test following arrival program.

We are confident that Kauai will be rejoining the Safe Travels program either by its own volition or by the governor’s decisions. We don’t know when that will occur, or how long the island can wait.

Differences between what it’s like now and when we authored our prior Life on Kauai article.  

When Kauai reopened, the Grand Hyatt Kauai brought back over 400 employees as rooms began to fill, and restaurants started to open. Since Kauai closed, the Hyatt has shut down again, and we hear that it will be closed at least until the end of January.

Following Kauai’s October 15 reopening, more than 1500 people per day started arriving on the island. Since December 2, that reversed direction, eliminating at least 90% of arrivals. 

While the Lt. Gov. feels otherwise, Kauai’s mayor believes the cases were growing due to travel, even with the Safe Travels program. Did the impact of this second shutdown miss the mayor’s radar in terms of its impact on working people, as thousands became unemployed once again? Did he even think the governor would approve of Kauai opting out of Safe Travels? We just don’t know. 

Holidays would normally be the busiest time of year on the island and a time when businesses hoped to regain at least a part of what they had lost since March. Nothing could have ended up being farther from reality.

Kauai resort bubbles are an epic failure, as we said, and you concurred.

Five “enhanced movement quarantine” properties still exist, at least in theory, but the concept is a zero. Guests can not leave the property for any reason, and even if some have kitchens, you can’t go to the store yourself to stock them. Beaches are off-limits. Oh yes, and don’t forget that the requisite monitoring bracelets are freely offered. With regards to resort bubbles, we have said all along what was repeated by Koa Kea Hotel’s general manager recently, “People just don’t want to quarantine, period.”


109 thoughts on “Time Bomb Ticking: Life on Kauai Now”

  1. In addition to the local population struggling to survive, this is what Kawakami has created…

    Received a photo this morning from a friend whose husband had just returned from a short business trip to Kauai – it was a photo of white Range Rover (obviously not a rental car) parked at Walmart where someone had spray painted on the side “Go Home”.

    She said her husband found it difficult to be “white” on the island right now. She is the second generation to own their condo on Kauai and, living in SoCal, both she and he spend about 6 months a year on the island so he would not have been an “obnoxious tourist”.

    No matter how Kauai transforms itself into the future, tourism will continue to be the island’s main source of income for the foreseeable future and the reputation that is starting to be perpetuated is not compatible with tourism!

    Even we are starting to become concerned about our 44th trip to the island this Summer unless things turn around.

  2. From the Senior Vice President – Global Owner Services…

    Hi Barbara, and Happy Holidays,

    There have been lots of meetings taking place, and when complete, a communication with details will be sent to Kauai Beach Club Owners regarding any transition plans for the hotel portion of the resort.

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