Gov. David Ige on Tuesday urged potential visitors to the islands to postpone their vacations for at least 30 days as part of what he called “strong measures to secure our islands” from the global coronavirus pandemic.
He said starting Friday, all passengers disembarking from cruise ships will be screened. That’s the day the MS Maasdam, which was originally scheduled to arrive in Hilo, will dock in Honolulu instead.
“This will include thermal screenings and interviews conducted by physicians,” Ige said. “We are aware that while planned cruises are put on hiatus for 30 days, we do believe that implementing these measures at this point in time is important to our community.”
Ige added that airports are “working on … plans to implement screening of our arriving visitors, (and) we anticipate having this in place soon.”
Echoing President Donald Trump’s theme of “15 days to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Ige cited experts’ advice that “social distancing is the most effective way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
Ige said he is “directing the following actions.”
“Social gatherings should be limited to groups of no more than 10, following the (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines,” he said. “All bars and clubs should be closed. Restaurants should adjust their operations to pivot to drive-through, take out, pickup or delivery service only. Closures of theaters and entertainment centers and visitor attractions should commence.”
Upon questioning, Ige stopped short of calling the directions to bars and restaurants mandates.
“We are asking for the community’s participation and support,” Ige replied. “Obviously, if someone chooses to disobey the orders, we will deal with it appropriately.”
Ige said “everyone should avoid any discretionary travel,” and suggested places of worship should suspend activities that involve groups larger than 10 people.
“High-risk individuals should stay at home and take additional precautions,” Ige said, and urged people not to visit nursing homes or retirement facilities. Many of those facilities have already suspended family visits except in end-of-life situations.
“If someone in your household has tested positive for COVID-19, the entire household should be in isolation.”
Ige said Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, who has a dual role as Hawaii’s adjutant general and director of Hawaii Emergency Management Agency “has full authority to determine what constitutes critical infrastructure or essential services that will continue operations.”
“This includes utilities, fuel producers, shipping facilities and industry, financial institutions (and) services, telecommunications companies, wholesalers and distributors, grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and other industries that are vital to our community,” he said. He said for utilities and essential services, “government services can be deployed as necessary to continue their operations.”
Ige said the Office of Consumer Protection is working with the landlord-tenant code to ensure that, under the state’s emergency proclamation, “applicable provisions” are enacted to protect tenants.
“We are working to halt evictions for nonpayment of rent. We are working to halt foreclosures,” he said. “We are working with public and private utility providers to ensure that services are not shut off during critical times, for critical utilities such as electricity, gas, water, internet service, landline telephone services and cellphone services.”
Ige said he’s directed cabinet-level directors to review their departments, identify essential functions and workers who will have to report to their job sites, and allow those who can do their jobs from home to do so.
“For the next 15 calendar days, I’m directing departments to have all nonessential staff stay home,” he said. “Essential workers will continue to report to work.”
He said “all employees will continue to be paid and will still be eligible for sick leave, vacation and other benefits.”
Ige also banned all nonessential travel for state workers, including interisland travel, and said, “Anyone who travels will be required to complete a 14-day self-quarantine.”
He said those requirements don’t apply to the Department of Education.
“These actions may seem extreme to you, and we know it will have a negative impact on our economy, but we are confident that taking aggressive actions now will allow us to have quicker recovery when the crisis is over,” Ige said.
“With Hawaii’s aloha spirit and hospitality, we have always prided ourselves with sharing or islands and culture with the world,” he said. “However, with the spread of COVID-19, we need to take care of our people and communities first.”
Ige said he expects “more stringent actions that will be required in the days to come as we watch the COVID-19 pandemic unfold.”
Asked if there will be rationing of certain items due to consumer panic-buying and hoarding, both Ige and Hara replied in the negative.
Hara suggested stores reserve their first two morning business hours “for the kupuna in the high-risk” category.
“I would want to ask for the community’s support,” Ige added. “There has been no impact to the supply chain. All of our grocers and retailers continue to receive the things that they order normally in the course of business.”
Earlier in the day, Dr. Sarah Park, the state epidemiologist, said the first confirmed Big Island case is a traveler from the mainland.
“That state still has to be apprised, by the way, of that particular traveler,” Park said.
Meantime, there were three other new cases, two Oahu residents who traveled to Japan and the Philippines, and another case on Maui, with officials still gathering information.
The state’s total of confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. Tuesday was 14.
Closures, cancellations and other adjustments continue to be made in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including:
• The Hawaii State Teachers Association late Tuesday filed a complaint with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board over Ige’s plan directing teachers to return to public schools on March 23. The HSTA alleges the plan violates the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement.
• The state is closing six Big Island parks, effective today: ‘Akaka Falls State Park, Kekaha Kai State Park, Wailoa River State Recreation Area, Wailuku River State Park, Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area, and Kiholo State Park Reserve. Camping and pavilion use permits are suspended. Vendors and concessions are being contacted with cease-of-operations instructions.
• The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens in Papaikou said it is closing indefinitely for the “health and wellness of our visitors, staff and our surrounding community.”
• Events at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are canceled until further notice, but the park will remain open.
• Hawaiian Electric announced it’s suspending service disconnections until at least April 17, so customers financially impacted by the pandemic will not lose electricity.
• The state Sheriff Division is suspending all eviction activities as part of the department’s COVID-19 response efforts. The temporary hold on evictions is effective immediately. This suspension will be re-evaluated at a later date.
• The state Department of Business and Consumer Affairs announced the immediate suspension of all combat sports in Hawaii until further notice. Combat sports licensed and sanctioned by DCCA include mixed martial arts, boxing, and kickboxing events.
• Hawaii U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio introduced new legislation Tuesday to protect people’s credit scores during the coronavirus outbreak.
• Foodland announced it “will set aside the first hour of business on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays to serve only seniors (age 60 and above) and an accompanying caregiver or assisting family member at all stores statewide.” In addition, seniors will be offered the grocery chain’s “Senior Thursday” 5% discount all three days during the first hour of business.
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