Should you visit Hawaii during the COVID-19 outbreak? Some airlines are offering amazing deals on travel to Hawaii right now. Deals that seem too good to pass up, deals of a lifetime. Similarly, VRBO listings are showing numerous vacancies, and are practically begging folks to make a reservation to visit ASAP.
But just because something looks good doesn’t mean it truly is. Looks can be deceiving. In truth, this is actually the worst possible time to visit Hawaii. Here’s why:
Reason #1 to stay where you are – : 14-day mandatory quarantine
As of just after midnight on Thursday, March 26, 2020, 12:01 a.m the State of Hawaii is requiring that all individuals arriving or returning to the State of Hawaii be subject to a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine, whether resident or visitor. Everyone arriving will receive the standard Hawaii Department of Agriculture form onboard their flight; but instead of giving it back to a flight attendant, they have to turn it in after disembarking to staff who will verify that legitimate lodging information has been provided. The form includes information on the mandatory requirements for the 14-day quarantine along with penalties. Visitors are required to self-quarantine in their accommodations (residents in their homes), can only leave for medical emergencies or to return to the airport, and must arrange for their food to be delivered to them. They are also responsible for all quarantine costs. The State will be making random phone calls to ensure that visitors are staying in their lodgings, as well as writing tickets and levying fines to visitors found to be violating the quarantine. Anyone who violates the mandatory quarantine could face up to $5,000 in fines or a year in prison, if convicted.
So you’re going to spend thousands of dollars to visit Hawaii during the COVID-19 outbreak only to spend at least 5 hours on a plane, possibly with other infected people followed by 14 days couped up in hotel room and then go right back on that plane?
Reason #2 – Don’t visit Hawaii during the COVID-19 outbreak : no beaches, parks or just about anything else.
The mandatory 14-day self-quarantine is part of a Proclamation from the Governor of Hawaii. That Proclamation also ordered that all state-run parks and beaches be closed. The penalty for violating this order is a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $500 or 30 days in jail – or both. Following the Governor’s directive, the Mayors of the islands have also ordered that city-run parks and beaches on each island also be closed. That now includes golf courses. Additionally, the Governor’s proclamation directs that social gatherings be limited to groups of no more than 10 [following the CDC’s guidelines]. So as a result, all bars and nightclubs are closed. Restaurants no longer allow sit-down service and are only allowing drive-through, take-out, or pick-up and delivery services – the ones that are still in business, that is. Many have closed, some are going out of business. Theaters, entertainment centers, and visitor attractions are closed. Inter-island travel is now also restricted and non-essential travelers are subject to the 14-day quarantine.
And although government officials are urging those not subject to the quarantine to go outside, go for walks, exercise, even hike – you can’t, if you’re quarantined. And going out doesn’t include going to the beach to sunbathe because the beaches are closed. Those who have flaunted the order were being warned. Now they are being fined and ticketed.
So we went from having one of the most liberal beach access laws in the world to essentially making them all off-limits if you visit Hawaii during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Reason #3 to stay where you are: The number of positively tested cases of COVID-19 is rising daily
In the very few days from when the Governor’s Proclamation went into effect on March 26, 2020 through Wednesday, April 1, 2020, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Hawaii tripled. The pandemic situation here is highly fluid, test results are still being accumulated, infection rates are rising, and Hawaii also sadly announced the first coronavirus-related fatality last week. The cause of the deceased’s infection has been noted to be travel-related: although a resident, he was suspected to have picked up the virus in Nevada. There were no known cases in the islands before the outbreak began, and it is painfully clear that COVID-19 entered the state with returning residents and visitors. And while the number of those who have recovered is growing, the concern remains that with each new planeload of visitors, albeit in small numbers, the potential for the virus to spread is high. Returning residents appear to be abiding by the quarantine, out of respect for family and friends, but news reports show that some visitors have felt it unnecessary to stay quarantined and are out and about, visiting closed beaches and parks, shopping at local grocery stores – in blatant violation of the law. We all know that you can be infected and not show any symptoms, and that you can be carrying the virus for several days before becoming infectious. So anyone coming to visit Hawaii during the COVID-19 outbreak at this time could be a carrier. That’s why the quarantine was imposed in the first place.
Failing to respect the law puts the residents of Hawaii – and other visitors – at risk.
Reason #4 – Don’t visit Hawaii during the COVID-19 outbreak : The health care system may not be able to handle the case load
There is a possibility that Hawaii’s healthcare system might get easily overwhelmed. According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2018, the State of Hawaii had 1.42 million permanent residents. At the present, there are a total of 3,095 hospital beds (2,757 OHCA licensed beds) and 338 ICU beds statewide. Of those 3,095 beds, 1,019 are occupied. We have 534 ventilators. Of those, 58 are in use. You can do the math to see how many beds and ventilators the State is lacking in the case of a major outbreak of the coronavirus. Additionally, while Hawaii has about 9,000 licensed physicians, only around 4,000 are actually practicing. By even the most conservative estimates, Hawaii needs several times that number to be available for a population of over 1 million under normal circumstances. If the numbers of COVID-19 infected persons swell and those people need hospitalization and practitioners to care for them, the health care system will easily be overwhelmed.
It’s a very real possibility that our health care system may be ill-prepared to deal with a major influx of patients needing urgent and critical care. And if someone visiting becomes ill while visiting Hawaii during the COVID-19 outbreak, the bed they use won’t be available to a local resident and that’s probably something you wouldn’t want on your conscience.
Reason #5 to stay where you are: Locals don’t want a repeat of bad history
Most people know a few things about Hawaii: that it’s absolutely beautiful; that the people are full of welcoming aloha; and that it’s the perfect place to go on vacation. Not as many people know about the history of Hawaii, though: that it became a U.S. state in a less than honorable way, or that is was heavily populated before Westerners arrived. While estimates on pre-contact Hawaii population numbers vary, there is consensus that when Captain Cook landed on the island of Kauaʻi, the total population of the islands exceeded 700,000, and that the people were remarkably healthy and robust. By some reckonings, however, at least 1 in 17 Native Hawaiians had died within two years of Cook’s arrival, and by 1800 the population had declined by 48%. By 1820, it had declined 71%; by 1840, another 13%, to 84%. The Pew Research Center notes that Cook and his crew wrote well-documented accounts about their concerns of the ships’ crews infecting the population with venereal diseases. Over the ensuing years, infectious diseases and illnesses such as measles, chicken pox, polio and tuberculosis caused the deaths of thousands of Hawaiians. Hawaii was an isolated society, having had no outside world contact for at least a century, and no opportunity to develop immunity to the many dangerous microbes brought in by…visitors.
In an eerie possible repeat of history, visitors to Hawaii today carry the same kind of threat, a microbe that our species has no natural defense against. And this is the most sensitive, perhaps the most important reason to stay away from Hawaii during this crisis: the native people here remember what happened when Cook and his successors brought disease and disaster to Hawaii, and they are still upset about it. Of course, no one is alive today who personally witnessed the tragedy – but there are people alive whose great-grandparents lived through those terrible times and made sure to tell their children and grandchildren about it. And so on, to the present generations. The emotions of local people regarding people coming here now for a vacation are sadly trending towards hostile, out of fear that history could repeat itself. Another thing people don’t know is that aloha is a two-way street: it is to be given, not just taken. Those considering a vacation here might want to be mindful that by potentially worsening the situation to visit Hawaii during the COVID-19 outbreak is not what we would consider a “good visitor”.
Reason #6: Don’t visit Hawaii during the COVID-19 outbreak: we’ll need your help in the recovery
Right now, it’s clearly a waste of money to come to Hawaii. Save those vacation plans for when Hawaii will be open for business. Right now our economy is taking a massive hit as there are essentially zero visitors arriving.
When COVID-19 has passed and we all have the “all clear” message, Hawaii’s economy is going to need your support and we’ll need your help. That’s when we’ll need you to come out in full force. Our beaches will be open, our people will be ready, the restaurants will be serving, our weather will be inviting, and most of all, the Spirit of Aloha will be as strong, if not stronger, than ever.
So until that time, let’s help each other fight this thing. Stay isolated if you can and play your part in battling this outbreak.
Editors note: as I mentioned in a previous article asking for your stories, this article was written by written by local resident Patricia Ravarra and the views and opinions expressed are hers. Mahalo Pat for taking the time to write this piece – I hope it gives everyone a good perspective on what’s going on – Peter.