The County Council on Wednesday unanimously threw its support behind three county mayors in asking President Donald Trump to ban all non-essential travel to the state, after Mayor Harry Kim declined to sign the mayors’ joint letter.
Council Chairman Aaron Chung, who authored Resolution 572 seeking the ban, said it’s very unusual for all nine members of the council to co-sponsor a resolution, but unusual times call for unusual measures. He said he’s not introducing the nonbinding resolution to “bash” Kim, but to show solidarity with the other counties.
“I know how united this council has been on trying to flatten the curve at all costs,” Chung said. “Unfortunately, the mayor did not sign on with the other mayors, (but) the public needs to see there’s a different opinion coming out from its county government.”
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Maui Mayor Micheal Victorino and Kauai Mayor Derek S. K. Kawakami sent a letter to Trump on April 1 asking for a 30-day travel ban.
“All such travelers pose a heightened risk of spreading COVID-19 throughout our state. In addition, these travelers are putting additional strains on our already scarce resources during this emergency period, including our hotels, homeless shelters, hospitals, and stores with limited inventory,” the mayors’ letter said. “Unless something is done at the federal level, such travel to Hawaii will continue and lead to an avoidable health care crisis and tragedy in our state.”
Council members, all wearing masks and meeting by videoconference from three locations to achieve social distancing, strongly agreed that now is not the time to entertain tourists on the island.
“This is an outstanding way to demonstrate our support of having this done,” said Kohala Councilman Tim Richards.
Kim, in a letter published Tuesday in the island’s newspapers, explained his reasons for not signing the letter. He noted that total arrivals from the mainland on Saturday, including crew, residents and visitors totaled 543, compared to an average of 30,000 visitors a day this time last year. Only 32 people ended up on the Big Island on Saturday, he said.
“These are dramatic results from the 14-day quarantine rule,” Kim said in his letter. “I believe it would not be worth imposing additional travel bans because the quarantine rule is working to severely reduce incoming passengers.”
Kim said once flights are stopped, it would be extremely difficult to re-establish them, hurting the state’s economy and slowing recovery.
Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter argued tourism doesn’t have to be the end-all for the island’s economy. Rather than encourage tourism, she’d like to see more sustainability, through small farms and other small business.
“Our recovery plan should not be based on tourism,” Poindexter said. “When I was growing up, we didn’t depend on tourism, we depended on each other.”
The Federal Aviation Administration is in charge of U.S. airports, so it would take federal — not state — action to close them. But that hasn’t stopped West Sacramento resident Imelda Villa from starting a petition drive on change.org asking Gov. David Ige to shut them down.
“This petition is for you to send an order to lockdown all Hawaiian islands to commercial passenger flights and ships,” Villa said in the petition, which had been signed by 273 people as of press-time Wednesday. “Close all ports of entry for non-essential travel.”
Chung hopes Trump will respond.
“In order for us to restore normalcy for our local population, we have to shut down our state,” Chung said. “We have the luxury of being insulated from the others because we are an island state and if we don’t take advantage of that, we should get our heads examined.”