LIHU‘E — Governor David Ige said Thursday he plans to allow indoor gatherings of up to 50 people and outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people on Kaua‘i, and that the whole state could reopen to trans-Pacific travel as early as late July.
The details for Kauai’s next steps are outlined in Mayor Derek Kawakami’s Emergency Rule 13, which was submitted to the governor’s office for approval early this week.
As of deadline on Thursday, Kawakami’s office hadn’t yet received approval on the proposed Rule 13.
If approved, gatherings would still be subject to all other existing state guidelines, including physical distancing from those not in the same household. More details, including a starting date for allowing these gatherings, will be announced after governor approval.
Ige mentioned the emergency rule in Thursday’s 2020 Virtual Governor’s Luncheon, an annual event that’s usually held at a Kaua‘i resort and is hosted by the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce. Pandemic-related emergency rules forced the 2020 meeting to an online platform.
In the meeting, Ige also touched on goals for reopening trans-Pacific travel, virus testing and contact tracing capabilities, the budget crisis — with officials looking at an estimated $2.3 billion shortfall in the state budget.
“We’re going to have to look at hiring freezes furloughs program cutbacks because we don’t have the revenues to maintain this size of government moving forward,” Ige said Thursday. Discussions on those next steps are currently happening at the state level.
Then he said he was planning to approve Kawakami’s Emergency Rule 13 later in the day, explaining “I know that it is an important part of getting our economy going and being able to see a new normal of activity for our business and organizations throughout the state.”
Ige said the whole state is taking phased steps toward reopening, pointing out Kaua‘i has been trendsetting for the rest of the state since the early days of the pandemic.
“You on Kauai led the way, far ahead of other counties,” Ige said, highlighting the trailblazing steps Kawakami’s Office has taken, like being at the forefront of reopening the beaches, bars and other businesses.
With temperature checks set up at airports, a new form required for travel and the reopening of interisland travel without quarantine on June 16, Ige said the next step for Hawai‘i is “creating an environment that allows us to bring out-of-state travelers back in a safe way.”
Current strategy to do that involves targeting communities with a low prevalence of the virus — specifically opening up first to places like Japan and Korea, requiring travelers to get tested for COVID-19 before they board the plane to Hawai‘i, and working with the hospitality industry to monitor traveler health after they land.
The process isn’t instantaneous; airlines need 2-4 weeks to gear up and add flights and hotel properties need 4-6 weeks to prep for visitors.
“We are working hard to have that happen as quickly as we can,” Ige said, setting a “realistic” goal of reopening to trans-Pacific travel sometime from late July through mid-August.
Ige said he and his team know that relying on a single pre-test for COVID-19 before welcoming travelers to Hawaii is “not a zero risk game, because they could get infected after taking the test,” but the probability of infection is decreased dramatically upon pretesting for the virus.
Placing public health officers in resorts and other visitor lodging to monitor travelers after they arrive helps mitigate that risk, officials said.
Ige said the state is also looking at ways to support the Young Brothers shipping company, which has asked for a 34% increase in shipping rates and a reduction in partial-load shipments; re-evaluating capitol improvement projects state wide and is considering how to strengthen internet connectivity across all of the islands.
Jessica Else, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or email@example.com.