US supports legal challenge to Hawaii traveler quarantine

  • FILE - In this March 31, 2020 file photo a surfer walks out of the ocean on Oahu’s North Shore near Haleiwa, Hawaii. The U.S. Department of Justice says a traveler quarantine in Hawaii that was imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus discriminates against out-of-state residents. The Justice Department has filed a statement of interest in a federal lawsuit filed by Nevada and California residents who own property in Hawaii and are challenging the quarantine mandate. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones,File)

HONOLULU — A quarantine imposed on travelers arriving to Hawaii discriminates against out-of-state residents, the U.S. Department of Justice said in support of a lawsuit challenging the mandate meant to protect the islands against the spread of the coronavirus.

“This case raises issues of national public importance regarding the interplay between the government’s compelling interest in protecting the public and citizens’ constitutional rights,” the Justice Department said in a “statement of interest.”

It was filed Tuesday in connection with a federal lawsuit by Nevada and California residents who own property in Hawaii and believe the quarantine mandate is unnecessary and unfair.

Hawaii has maintained a relatively low rate of coronavirus infections compared to other parts of the U.S. As of Tuesday, Hawaii reported 819 confirmed cases and 17 deaths.

The quarantine, in place since March, requires arriving visitors and residents to spend 14 days in hotel rooms or residences. Those caught breaking quarantine for any reason other than medical emergencies face up to a year in jail and $5,000 fines. Some tourists and residents have been arrested.

Gov. David Ige, a Democrat, extended the quarantine through the end of July. But he recently lifted a similar requirement for interisland travel, which the Justice Department took issue with.

“To be clear, the United States appreciates that Hawaii, unlike many other States, is generally reached by airplane, which raises particular public-health concerns,” the Justice Department’s statement said. “But that alone cannot end the analysis, especially as the Governor does not subject those who travel by air between islands (as opposed to between States) to the self-quarantine mandate.”

One of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs is Russell Hirsch, a Nevada resident who owns a house on Oahu and a farm on the Big Island. He needs to travel to Hawaii to maintain his properties and “he wants to celebrate his daughter’s recent graduation in the place where she grew up,” the Department of Justice said.

Another plaintiff is a Hawaii resident who argued the quarantine makes it impossible to visit her daughter and 90-year-old grandmother on the U.S. mainland.

The Justice Department’s arguments and the lawsuit have no merit, the Hawaii attorney general’s office said.

It’s reasonable to protect the public during a pandemic, but state officials need to be bound by constitutional safeguards, “such as the right of Hawaii residents and persons who hail from other states to travel freely within this great country,” said Kenji Price, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii.

The Justice Department’s statement suggested Hawaii has been slow to adopt less restrictive plans similar to Alaska, where travelers have alternatives to quarantine.

Travelers can get tested 72 hours before leaving for Alaska and show those negative results, but they are to minimize interactions until getting a second test within seven to 14 days of arrival.

Travelers taking a test upon arrival must self-quarantine until getting negative results. Second tests within seven to 14 days of arrival are required.

For travelers who previously tested positive, but have recovered, no tests or quarantine are mandated. In those cases, a doctor’s note is required showing the traveler recovered and has no symptoms.

“Although the Governor has indicated his intention to adopt a similar plan, he has not done so yet,” the Justice Department said.

Ige has said Hawaii leaders are talking to Alaska officials about traveler testing there.

The federal judge presiding over the lawsuit is giving the Justice Department until Wednesday afternoon to further explain why it should be involved in the lawsuit. A hearing for the lawsuit had been scheduled for July 2.

The Hawaii attorney general’s office is asking that the lawsuit be consolidated with another similar case filed by a group of Kauai and Big Island residents.

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Associated Press reporter Becky Bohrer contributed from Juneau, Alaska.

8 Comments
  1. winjon June 24, 2020 3:22 pm Reply

    I don’t expect much from the Trump administration, and I have no pleasure in saying this. This state’s governor had all the pandemic months since February to use his position for the benefit of our public health and safety, in a way that is consistent with the law and constitution. He failed all of us, and it’s a real shame to see that it takes the federal court and DOJ to protect the rights and safety of people in Hawaii.


  2. Ron Rodarte June 24, 2020 3:53 pm Reply

    To be fair and equitable, if you live off-island and out of state, and you own and investment or 2nd home property – the most important capital investment safeguard is to your health and the health of every neighbor Hawaiian resident.
    It should be a policy of protective protocol that any visitor, whether a homeowner visiting property, an individual conducting business, or a visitor tourist – must have a Covid-19 test 48 hours prior to embarking on travel to the Hawaiian Islands. That is remarkably simple protocol for arriving aircraft and cruise liners, both which should demand 48 hour prior Covid-19 test results at the boarding gate or ticket counter (as they do in many Asian countries including Thailand and Macau) or (for the price of embarkation) a Covid-19 test before disembarking from cruise ship for their landing party.
    There is no need for lockdown when all who are arriving are known to be clear of the virus.
    Many cities and counties on mainland now offer free Covid-19 testing.
    Many insurance groups offer Covid-19 testing too.
    “Test, before you infect”.
    That should be the motto of visitors to the Island State of Hawaii.
    Testing prior to travel, along with common sense hygiene and masks when out in crowds, will ensure a full and profitable tourist season without fears of decimating the population of the Hawaiian Islands by tourist arriving from “who knows where” with “who knows what.”


    1. Everythingisawesome June 25, 2020 5:39 am Reply

      The tourist season for 2020 is already over. Nobody will start planning a ‘summer vacation’ this late in the year.
      There is no need for lockdown as the virus has been shown to be so weak that a majority that are exposed to it and develop infections actually show no symptoms. The only places ‘decimated’ by the virus are nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities filled with elderly patients. We have known this for two months now.
      It has yet to be shown that any tourists have infected any residents.
      Mask, semi-isolate if they choose, and protect the at-risk population.
      Everyone else develops immunity. Just like chicken pox.
      No additional invasive tests. No “cheating”. No quarantines. No forms. No additional screeners or tracers.
      Protect the weak without punishing the healthy.
      My plan is simpler, more effective than yours, and can be implemented tomorrow.


  3. Truth June 24, 2020 7:07 pm Reply

    Awaken


  4. Old Lady June 25, 2020 11:58 am Reply

    “Protect the weak without punishing the healthy” sounds great until one notes there is no “plan” for such protection offered with it. Of course the weak are apparently limited to the elderly and the vaguely referenced “at risk” population. By all means, develop a fool proof way to determine exactly who is “at risk”…no generalities…and then offer a plan to “protect” them. (No fair locking them in a building with boxes of supplies dropped off and even workers kept out.). The world waits.


    1. Everythingisawesome June 26, 2020 6:49 pm Reply

      Medical masks work? Or nah?
      Distancing works? Or nah?

      Tell us, which plans have “worked” so far? Sending the sick elderly back to nusing homes? Nope. Cloth masks for the general public? Nope. Telling the public to “shelter in place”? Nope. Protesting and rioting? Nope. Quaratines from high infection areas (Texas tried, too)? Nope.
      I proposed a clear plan: medical grade PPE for those that want it. Which previous failed plan would you like to stick with?
      The world waits.


      1. J.D. June 28, 2020 9:44 am Reply

        The virus will run it’s course. By closing the state the agony and hardship was prolonged. After the first 16 weeks of the year the U.S. total death rate was relatively low. I hope they do not shut down the country every flu season. For most people it is like a very mild flu. Many people have had the virus and did not even know they had it.


        1. Hatch Hu June 29, 2020 3:42 pm Reply

          Your right, only what 100,00 have died? That’s barely a drop in the bucket. I mean with logic like that, 9/11 was basically just a hiccup.


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