Ige discusses changes to travel restrictions

A day after announcing the state will relax COVID-19 travel and gathering restrictions on July 8 — when 60% of Hawaii’s population should be fully vaccinated — Gov. David Ige on Friday further explained his decision.

Ige on Thursday said beginning July 8, Hawaii will eliminate its pretravel testing and quarantine requirement for domestic travelers who are fully vaccinated in the United States and will expand permitted social gathering sizes from a maximum of 10 people to 25 indoors and from 25 to 75 outdoors.

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“We have been talking with the mayors for the last four weeks at least just about how to incorporate vaccination rates, what the vaccination rates means to our controlling the virus, and we all agreed that at 60% we would be willing to relax restrictions,” Ige said during a livestream Friday.

Because the changes are significant, Ige said businesses and organizations also needed advance notice to prepare for the changes and plan accordingly.

When asked about vaccine verification of travelers arriving from the mainland, the governor said beginning July 8, travelers should upload their vaccination record to the Safe Travels program.

Ige said state is asking those screening passengers before flights to verify that the name matches the traveler and that the vaccination date occurred at least two weeks before the flight to ensure the traveler is fully vaccinated.

“We won’t be able to verify it against the (vaccine) databases of other states, yet,” he said. “We continue to work with a couple of vendors that have access to other states’ verification records, and we continue to move forward and hope that we can get that verification in place before July 8. But we felt that it was important for us to be able to specify a date, even though we may not be able to verify all the mainland vaccinations at this time.”

Although projections call for the state’s fully vaccinated rate to reach 60% on or around July 8, the date for the changes will remain regardless of the actual vaccination rate on that day, Ige confirmed.

When determining its reopening benchmarks, Hawaii factors in vaccination rates among its entire population rather than the vaccination rate for only those who are eligible for inoculation.

Ige said Health Director Libby Char and acting state Epidemiologist Sarah Kemble “really felt it was important to continue to remind everyone that it is about the total population, and everyone in our community is susceptible to getting infected with the virus.

“Just because we make progress in one specific segment doesn’t mean our community is protected,” he continued. “We want to be able to protect an entire community, even those not eligible (for vaccination). When you look at who is not eligible, it’s really children 11 and under. In many ways, they’re the most precious of those in our community, and we all are trying to protect them. We felt that focusing on eligible (populations) would give people the false impression that it’s safe to be out and about and that we can drop the restrictions. We just want to remind everyone that it is the total population that is important when we talk about herd immunity, and we want to continue to remind people that we have work to be done.”

Ige also said Thursday that when the state reaches a fully vaccinated rate of 70%, all COVID-related emergency restrictions will be dropped, and the Safe Travels Program will end.

“I know that people want to know when we project to hit 70%,” Ige said during Friday’s livestream. “It’s really hard to make that prediction because the pace of vaccinations have really fallen off.”

In May, an average of 72,000 vaccine doses per week were administered, but in the first weeks of June, that rate has dropped 50%, he said.

“We are now averaging about 35,000 or 36,000 doses a week, and that’s a big concern,” the governor said. “A lot of our projections kind of tried to assume that the rate of vaccinations would continue.”

The governor touched on a number of other topics during Friday’s livestream, including his intent-to-veto list, which was announced last Monday.

Among the bills included on his list of measures for possible veto was legislation that would take away the counties’ share of the tax on hotel rooms and short-term rentals.

As previously reported, House Bill 862 would eliminate the current $103 million that’s divvied up among the four counties and replace it with an option for each county to add its own surcharge of up to 3%.

The current tax, which also has earmarks for the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Honolulu rail project, Hawaii Convention Center and other state and local projects, is set at 10.25% of the room charge on hotels and short-term rentals of less than 180 days.

“We really feel that dedicated funding for the tourism authority is very, very important,” Ige said. “All of us know that our community wants to deal with visitors differently, and we want the ability to manage those who are coming. … House Bill 862 would devastate the tourism authority and would mean that there wouldn’t be anybody that would be managing tourism in a way that can be successful.”

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Ige also said he was concerned about other unintended consequences of the measure, which why it landed on his veto list.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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