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VOICES: House Speaker Scott Saiki’s travel-policy bill unsafe for Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i

Under Mayor Kawakami’s independent-travel policies, Kaua‘i has the lowest COVID incidence in Hawai‘i.

Nonetheless, Hawai‘i’s Speaker of the House, Scott Saiki, claiming that Kaua‘i’s different travel rules confuse travelers to Hawai‘i, has proposed House Bill 1286, to force all counties to conform to the state’s one-test, “Safe” Travels plan.

The state’s one-test plan has shown itself to be clearly UNSAFE. After its start on Kaua‘i on Oct. 15, 2020, careful data tracking showed a DOUBLING of COVID cases in one month.

In the first seven months of the pandemic, Kaua‘i had 60 infections. After one month of the state’s unsafe travel plan, Kaua‘i’s total caseload spiked to 120. Of those post-reopening cases, 80% were incoming travelers. The state’s unsafe plan was unquestionably the cause.

Kaua‘i wisely opted out. Maui didn’t — and went from 1% of the state’s total cases to 18% today.

The lieutenant governor’s own Safe Travels Surveillance Study was quietly terminated after 18 positives out of 2,507 post arrival PCR tests from O‘ahu, Maui and Kaua‘i showed that the predeparture test missed at least seven of 1,000 travelers — seven times the prediction of the state’s travel plan.

The state’s travel plan was never based in science. Infected people don’t usually test positive until day four or five after exposure, when the viral shedding becomes detectable. One pretravel negative test does not mean a traveler is safe. A significant number of travelers test positive AFTER arrival, seeding spread in Hawai‘i.

For U.S. citizens returning to America (a category of travelers akin to returning residents or visitors to Hawai‘i), the Centers for Disease Control states: “Testing before and after travel is a critical layer to slow the introduction and spread of COVID-19.” It recommends a pre-departure test, a second test between three and five days after arrival, and post-arrival quarantine for seven days.

There appears to be a concerted effort to blame local residents for the COVID spread. Those minimizing the role of travel are denying a basic pandemic fact: TRAVEL CAUSES SPREAD.

Coronavirus variants that could increase the danger only come through travelers. Countries successfully handling the coronavirus, like Taiwan, New Zealand and Australia, have demonstrated that it’s critical to keep infections out. It’s impossible to contain the virus when there is a continuous incoming stream; the state’s travel plan is likely a significant cause of the triple-digit, seven-day, new-cases average that plagued Hawai‘i throughout January.

The tragedy is that the one-test plan is not only failing to keep Hawai‘i safe, it is also failing to save the economy. From President Biden to economists like Hawai‘i’s Paul Brewbaker, there is agreement that “You don’t solve the economic problem until the epidemiological problem is solved.” The only way to revive the economy is to disable the virus.

The solution has always been a truly safe way to bring travelers in. Unfortunately, the lieutenant governor and certain travel, medical and business leaders have chosen to ignore science and push a travel plan that puts the short-term economic interests of tourism over the health of the people, yet continues to perpetuate the economic problem — the coronavirus.

A recent poll showed 67% of Hawai‘i’s residents agreeing that “the island is being run for tourists at the expense of local people.”

Stopping Mayor Kawakami from effectively protecting his constituents is unfathomable. If the speaker wants uniformity AND a solid plan to weather this pandemic, he would do better to follow Kaua‘i’s lead and endorse a science-based plan by which to welcome visitors to Hawai‘i safely.

A hearing on Bill 1286 has been scheduled before the House Committees on Pandemic and Disaster Preparedness and on Labor and Tourism for Tuesday, Feb. 9, at 8 a.m. Written testimony must be submitted online 24 hours prior to the hearing — by 8 a.m. Monday, Feb. 8. Here is the link to the hearing notice which contains links for testifying online or submitting written testimony: capitol.hawaii.gov/session2021/hearingnotices/HEARING_PDP-LAT_02-09-21_.HTM, or google Hawai‘i State House of Representatives and type HB1282 at top left for Bill Status.

Whatever your opinion may be, let your voice be heard.

•••

JoAnn Yukimura is a former Kaua‘i County mayor and councilmember. She helped to start The Kaua‘i Bus and Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative, and was instrumental in stopping high-rises on Kaua‘i. Robert Weiner, M.D., is a retired, board-certified general surgeon who worked at Wilcox Medical Center and Kaua‘i Veterans Memorial Hospital. He and his wife Linda Weiner started and operated the Kalaheo Clinic for 28 years. He also worked for Kaua‘i Hospice, where he continues to volunteer. Chad K. Taniguchiis a Kaua‘i native and former head of the County Housing Agency who has served as an advocate for safe streets and communities.
Source: The Garden Island

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