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As residents face lockdown, turn away tourists too

While Kaua‘i residents have been sent to their rooms to wait out the novel coronavirus, the Hawai‘i National Guard is now at airports statewide, aiding in passenger screening for daily arrivals.

Some travelers are Kaua‘i residents returning from essential trips. But, recent numbers are showing that some people are still coming to Hawai‘i to vacation. Either way, it’s a problem because — as our Mayor Derek Kawakami has emphasized time and time again— all evidence points to humans spreading the virus when we move around. There is no evidence of community spread [as of Monday, April 6].

The virus is coming to Kaua‘i with travelers.

Put in other words: Evidence suggests travel is the number one COVID-19 vector and not community spread, and yet our leaders are allowing travel and locking down the community.

That seems backwards and we think Hawai‘i’s leaders need to fight harder to fully terminate tourist travel for the time being.

We applaud Kawakami for joining in with other Hawai‘i mayors in writing an April 1 letter to President Trump requesting he halt non-essential travel to the state. We also think it should have been done long before putting island residents on lockdown and that letter writing isn’t enough action. More must be done to stop COVID-19 from traveling to the island.

Right now, Kaua‘i residents are struggling to pay rent. Some are even looking at evictions because the mayor’s stay-at-home order has shut down their source of income; but visitors are still allowed to land and have been, up until very recently, arriving unchecked, unscreened and the number unfettered.

Yes, Governor Ige’s 14-day quarantine has dramatically chopped visitor numbers. At first it was highly effective, dissuading travelers with visions of hotel room lockdowns and heavy fines for beachside strolls. It’s still effective, but people are still traveling to the islands.

Saturday, Hawaii Tourism Authority reported a slight increase — by just about 20 people — in travelers over the course of three days. Total arrivals to the state came in at 628 on Thursday, including 94 visitors and 239 residents statewide. Monday, HTA said visitor arrivals dipped by about 100. On Sunday, the entity reported 583 arrivals statewide. This includes 126 visitors and 233 residents. On Kaua‘i, HTA reported Monday that there were 32 arrivals at Lihu‘e Airport — 17 of them were visitors, eight were residents and seven were crewmembers.

As the world shutters its people inside with stay-at-home orders, it’s apparent some are deciding to hunker down in Hawai‘i and wait out the pandemic in a little piece of paradise instead of in their own hometowns.

This group could grow, too, as stay-at-home orders continue and a public that’s used to constant and free movement starts to climb the walls. As it becomes apparent that work furloughs could last months and kids will be out of school for the remainder of the year, low ticket fares will tempt travelers to schedule a long trip to Hawai‘i, knowing full-well they’ll spend the first half of it in quarantine.

On one hand, these people are infusing a slow drip of lifeblood into the visitor industry. They’re booking rooms in which to quarantine for 14 days, ordering delivery food [and now beer!] and buying souvenirs in whatever shops have managed to remain open.

If these people follow the rules to a T, they only have the potential of infecting people at the airport, in transit to their accommodations, while checking in and while interacting with room service or cleaning and maintenance staff…

We’re already hearing about travelers who aren’t sticking to the rules, though. They’re taking chances. They’re leaving their rooms. Props to the ISO in Kapa‘a for being the first resort to report this kind of activity.

If we [local residents] have to follow the rules, so do you [travelers]…especially since most recent statistics say travelers are the ones taking COVID-19 to the streets of Kaua‘i.

“When people move, the virus moves.”

Kawakami said that in an April 1 article about the mayors’ letter to the President. It’s a phrase that’s been on repeat — a constant reminder that when you leave your house, you could be carrying COVID-19 with you.

He’s right.

You should stay home so you don’t pass the virus around.

But those words ring empty when residents are on lockdown and leisure travelers are still on the move.

Stop the non-essential travel and re-evaluate the rules.

One look at the evidence shows COVID-19 is currently being brought to Kaua‘i from off-island. If that vector is stopped and there continues to be no evidence of community spread, there’s a chance the mayor could ease up on his stay-at-home order and safely allow at least some sectors of Kaua‘i back to work.

We are in new and rapidly changing territory with this global pandemic. There are more questions than answers, unvetted information has full reign on the web and going to the grocery store requires personal protective equipment.

Here at The Garden Island newspaper, we’ve had to cut hours and furlough some employees. Our sections have slimmed and our advertising has shrunk, but we’re still serving our community, and we will continue to provide this vital service.

Our journalists are still out gathering stories, working hard to keep you up to date on local government and civics, environment and natural resources issues, court proceedings and community sources for food and other essentials.

We’re answering your questions through the TGI COVID Questionnaire — fill it out at tinyurl.com/TFIQ-A and our public safety/government reporter Sabrina Bodon will find the answers for you.

You’ve probably seen the Happy Camper [the one and only Dennis Fujimoto] out and about. He’s got his mask ready to go, as does the rest of the staff. They’re out in the community, following Centers for Disease Control guidelines on social distancing and handwashing, and working hard every day in this time when others are safely tucked away at home.

We will continue to do that, as will the rest of the island’s essential workers — health care professionals and grocery store clerks, delivery drivers and gas station attendants.

But, if we could stop the only proven vector of COVID-19 to Kaua‘i — travel — could we put more of our own residents back to work? Could we actually #flattenthecurve on Kaua‘i?

Regardless of the answer to that question, one fact remains — the mayor’s stay-at-home order, while full of good intent and safety guidelines — isn’t targeting the proven vector of COVID-19 to Kaua‘i.

Sure, stay home. Sure, wear your masks and follow the recommendations of CDC and Hawaii Department of Health. Be responsible. Wash your hands. Practice social distancing.

But, is residential lockdown really the best way to stop a travel-related vector? Non-essential travel to Kaua‘i must be halted to stop a virus that arrives with travelers.
Source: The Garden Island

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