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Senators wonder why Ige hasn’t asked Trump to ban nonessential travelers

The state’s emergency management director and the governor’s chief of staff told lawmakers Monday that despite the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, there is nothing they can do to stop nonessential travelers from coming into the state.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, the state’s adjutant general and director of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, told the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness that officials “are certain that we cannot restrict any travel coming into the state.”

“For example, people want us to stop the tourists from coming in but, by law, we’re not able to,” Hara said. He added he was told by the Federal Aviation Administration “and they said, beside not being legal, it’s impossible for them to enforce.”

“To try to circumvent that, what we’re looking at possibly is restricting their ability to make reservations with lodging,” Hara said. “So that’s something that’s already in the works; I’m working with the attorney general on that.”

Gov. David Ige last month urged visitors to postpone their Hawaii travel plans for at least 30 days. Shortly after, he issued an emergency order requiring all travelers landing in Hawaii to quarantine themselves for 14 days. The number of travelers dropped sharply after these policies were announced, but visitors have still been coming.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority said 91 visitors arrived in the state Sunday and 89 the day before.

As of noon Monday, 504 people statewide had tested positive for COVID-19 with only five new cases reported, according to the state Department of Health. The state reports 40 Hawaii Island cases, four more than reported by the county earlier in the day.

Of the statewide cases, 44 have required hospitalization and nine have died, all on Oahu and Maui. According to DOH, 315 have been released from isolation.

Linda Chu Takayama, Gov. David Ige’s chief of staff, told the Senate Special Committee of COVID-19 she’s concerned about the 27th Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC exercise — a huge multinational military training operation that occurs every two years — scheduled to take place this summer in waters off Hawaii and Southern California.

Takayama said the state is trying to work with the federal government “to protect Hawaii by refusing to allow any of the personnel on board the ships to disembark.”

“We have not gotten a firm response yet as to whether RIMPAC can go forward in some sort of abbreviated fashion or not, but we’re trying to be as accommodating as we can without actually allowing any of them to come on land and be a danger to the citizens here, recognizing that it is equally important for the military to be able to conduct these exercises,” Takayama said. “It’s one of the reasons we have such a big military presence here, which has been very helpful to our security as well as to our economy.”

The Navy has been dealing with repercussions following the firing of the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt after an email he wrote about a coronavirus outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier was made public. Almost 600 personnel aboard that ship, including the captain, have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and a Roosevelt sailor died Monday in the U.S. Naval Hospital on Guam.

Takayama, like Hara, noted that Ige “has been in contact with all of the Federal Aviation Administration folks who have jurisdiction over the airport.”

“And it’s very clear that they believe very strongly, and will enforce the nondiscrimination part of the passengers coming to Hawaii,” she said.

Senators asked Takayama why Ige hasn’t sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to ban nonessential travel to Hawaii during the pandemic.

Sen. Donna Mercado Kim noted that three county mayors — all except Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim — “had asked President Trump to restrict nonessential travel, and President Trump said he needs a letter from the governor.”

“So my question was, and the people who are emailing me want to know why the governor is not signing such a letter, such a request to the president. Whether he approves it or not, why is he not requesting it?” Kim asked.

“I’ll pass that along to the governor, but his concern at the time was being able to work with FAA and —,” Takayama said.

“We had asked that at the time, and we are asking again, specifically about him signing the request,” Kim interjected.

“OK, I will pass that along to him,” Takayama replied.

At that point, Sen. Michelle Kidani, said she wanted to clarify that senators “are not asking the governor to ask FAA to shut down the airport.”

“We are asking him to sign a letter to the president, which the three mayors did, to restrict nonessential travelers. There’s a big difference between what we’re asking and what you guys are quoting us on,” Kidani said.

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz told Takayama he’d like the governor to publicly explain why he hasn’t made such a request of Trump.

“All I request that you take back to the governor is that he consider at his next press conference making a clear statement of the reasons why he has, thus far, elected not to join the mayors in requesting that the president shut down the airports,” Dela Cruz said. “If there are legitimate reasons that he sees to not follow (the mayors) with that request to the president, then that’s his prerogative.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Email John Burnett at
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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