“It is not a good time to travel to the islands.”
Gov. David Ige on Monday emphatically asked visitors and residents alike to limit travel to the Aloha State only for essential business purposes because the surge of COVID-19 cases has overwhelmed Hawaii’s health care system.
“Restaurant capacity has been restricted, there is limited access to rental cars, and we know the visitors who choose to come to the islands will not have the typical kind of holiday that they expect to get when they visit Hawaii,” Ige said during a news conference Monday where he discussed the pandemic and the state’s response.
Ige said he is aware that many of Hawaii’s businesses are struggling, and that his call to reduce travel to the islands will impact the number of people who will fly here.
“But I also would like to point out that our hospitals are at capacity,” he said. “Our ICUs are full. We are working on surge plans at every facility to expand capacity. We’re transitioning acute care beds to be able to support those that are sick. And so, I do know that that’s a risk, but I believe as a community that’s a risk that we have to take, to discourage travel to the islands until we can get to a better place with our health care facilities.”
According to data from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, more than 24,700 people arrived in Hawaii on Sunday. Another 28,700 arrived Saturday.
The number of arrivals this month are significantly greater than in August 2020, prior to the launch of the state’s Safe Travels program, but still below pre-pandemic 2019 arrivals.
The state Department of Health on Monday reported another 571 new COVID-19 cases statewide in a surge driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant. On Sunday, there were 893. An average of 674 new cases have been reported daily Aug. 14-20.
As case counts climb, the strain on health care resources grows.
Hilo Medical Center on Monday reported a record 29 COVID-positive patients in the hospital, 26 of whom are unvaccinated. Elective surgeries were canceled Monday and today.
According to an emailed update, HMC said its COVID unit has expanded to care for 23 COVID-positive patients, and its Emergency Department, intensive care unit and other areas are running beyond capacity.
Patients now are in overflow areas in the hospital’s obstetrics unit and Short Stay Department.
According to the governor, many of the state’s travel-related COVID infections stem from residents who travel elsewhere, get infected and return.
Ige said during the livestream that he spoke last week with the airlines about Hawaii’s current COVID-19 crisis.
“And I did ask, and all the airlines said they would look at what they could do to amplify the message,” he said.
According to Ige, the hotel industry also recognizes the state’s health care crisis.
“They certainly don’t like it, but they are supportive of helping us get that message out.”
Ige said when he first asked travelers to refrain from visiting Hawaii in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, there was a 70% reduction in traffic to the islands over the subsequent two weeks.
Shortly thereafter, a lockdown and mandatory quarantine requirement stopped nearly all travel to the state.
“This is a different environment,” Ige said during the livestream. “Now that many in our country is vaccinated, and the CDC believes that vaccinated individuals should be allowed to travel, it just gets a lot more complicated to order a shutdown.
“So, all of the (state’s) partners have committed,” he continued. “They understand. They’re part of our community in many instances, and they want to be helpful in stemming this surge of COVID cases.”