HONOLULU — Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Incident Commander Kenneth Hara said Monday that Gov. David Ige’s administration is exploring further stemming the flow of visitors amid the coronavirus pandemic by disrupting their ability to make hotel reservations.
Hara told a state House committee for the coronavirus that federal law won’t allow Hawaii to restrict travelers coming into the state.
“To try to circumvent that, we’re looking at possibly restricting their ability to make reservations with lodging,” Hara said, adding he was working with the state attorney general on the issue. The committee met through video conference, which was broadcast online and on television.
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 on 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.
Hara’s announcement follows Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim signing an emergency rule Friday shutting down transient vacation rentals effective Monday for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency. Kauai County Mayor Derek Kawakami also issued an emergency proclamation that went into effect on Saturday benning transient vacation rentals.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Monday his city will be asking the state how many travelers are staying at bed-and-breakfasts or vacation rentals. He said the information it receives may prompt the city to take further action.
Caldwell said the city declared such businesses nonessential and they shouldn’t be operating while Honolulu battles the pandemic.
“At the end of the day, we really don’t want to have any vacationers coming here for the duration of the stay-at-home, work-at-home orders and Governor Ige’s 14-day quarantine,” Caldwell said.
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.”
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.”
Hawaii Tribune-Herald reporter John Burnett contributed to this report.