Increasingly exasperated by the growing trickle of visitors into the state and daily reports of new arrivals violating a mandatory 14-day quarantine, Hawaii officials are implementing new measures, from the airport to accommodations, to crack down on scofflaws.
On March 15, Gov. David Ige publicly pleaded for visitors to postpone their Hawaii vacations and business trips and followed up a few days later with the quarantine measure. Since mid-March, the majority of hotels have closed, vacation rentals have been ordered to halt operations, beach activities have been extremely limited, and all but essential businesses have shuttered.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority launched a media campaign telling prospective visitors to stay home until the Islands are ready for them, and the agency, through the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, has been funding return flights for visitors who are not able to quarantine.
Still, like party guests who can't read the room and overstay their welcome, people keep arriving in Hawaii despite the quarantine order and the best efforts of multiple state agencies to discourage travel to the Aloha State.
From March 26, when the quarantine went into effect, through April 30, an average of 125 visitors arrived in Hawaii airports each day -- a far cry from the 30,000 daily arrivals at normal times, but concerning for state officials, who would prefer zero arrivals. Although Ige has extended the quarantine order through June 30, visitation ticked up when the calendar turned from April to May. Through the first 10 days of the month, an average of 233 visitors have landed daily.
Reports of quarantine violators are flooding in, and now the state is looking to bolster its methods to guarantee compliance, including a newly launched system designed to help monitor the movement of hotel guests.
"Despite these efforts at the airports, we have been receiving consistent reports from members of the public," the Hawaii Senate Special Committee on Covid-19 wrote in a letter to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell dated May 12. "They have observed, through social media or in person, travelers blatantly violating the quarantine orders.
"This is particularly frustrating for members of the public who are complying with the stay-at-home/stay-safe declarations imposed by the state and county in good faith. All the while, watching others flaunt their noncompliance with complete disregard for not only our laws but the health concerns behind these laws. Disturbingly, we have also received reports the City and County of Honolulu have avoided addressing these public concerns of noncompliance with regularity."
Spurred by demands for tighter enforcement, the HTA has been contacting the 91 hotels that have remained open during the crisis, some of which are housing medical personnel, National Guard and other essential workers, to sign them up for a "single-use key" program. Hotel guests would be given room keys that work only once. If they leave the room after entry, they would need to contact the front desk to access the room again.
According to an HTA report submitted to the Hawaii Senate Committee on Covid-19, roughly 70% of the hotels contacted agreed to participate in the initiative, with more than 20 properties yet to be reached. Four hotels had declined to participate as of May 9, at least one because it uses hard keys that cannot be programmed. One gave no explanation and another argued that its "apartment-style" accommodations precluded it from participating. Management at the Grand Naniloa Hotel on Hawaii Island said it could not currently comply with the program because state officials are failing to notify them of guests subject to quarantine prior to their check-in and they are short-staffed while housing National Guard members and local residents.
The state attorney general's office told the Senate committee on April 24 that it is also examining the legality and viability of other enforcement methods, including designated quarantine sites, ankle bracelets, facial recognition and GPS tracking.
The Department of Transportation and HTA have been working together to monitor arrivals, but the process has proven challenging. After deplaning, passengers' contact information and address while in Hawaii is verified while they also undergo a medical screening including temperature check. Recently, the state has added new questions to an agricultural form all arrivals fill out to glean more information about each passenger, including nature of the visit and expected departure date.
In a two-week period from mid-April to the end of the month, after the DOT stepped up enforcement, 27 visitors were forced to leave Hawaii for quarantine violations or lacking proper lodging and 330 arrivals were referred to law enforcement, according to a May 2 update to the Senate committee.
The hotels are notified of guests subject to quarantine, and both at the airport and the hotel, visitors are asked to fill out forms in which they acknowledge they are aware of the quarantine, which means they can only leave their room for "medical emergencies or to seek medical care" with no access to fitness centers, restaurants or other public areas.
State employees have been calling new arrivals to do spot check-ins to confirm compliance with the quarantine, but during a May 7 meeting of the Senate Covid-19 committee, officials acknowledged most of the contact numbers are for mobile phones and physical checks may be needed.
Quarantine violators are subject to arrest, a $5,000 fine and imprisonment for up to a year. While some visitors have been arrested, brought before a judge and sent home, the flow of arrivals continues.