COVID 19 has illustrated that to survive economically we must diversify. Visitor dollars are what we depend on but we need to develop more products and services than room nights and activities and it will take time.
But with unemployment and federal funds dwindling. 80% of Hawai‘i’s work force is anxiously awaiting plane loads of visitors. But they must arrive safely…in a different sort of way.
Our Governor announced that from August 1st all visitors and returning residents must be COVID-19 pre-tested before arriving. Pre-testing is a great start, so are the extensive forms and temperature checks as secondary safeguards.
Unfortunately, another phase which the Governor added will create more problems than solutions. Having a visitor or returning resident choose between pretesting OR a 14-day quarantine is a huge mistake.
The self-quarantine system has been a challenging one. For months those violating quarantine have been easy to spot, in stores, on the beach, at illegal TVRs, on the road and within our community. And although we’ve been instructed to report violations to officers, many have taken it upon themselves to accost visitors and even some unsuspecting residents as their overall status…because quarantine violations are more often than not.
Hawai‘i is about to promote itself as a ‘safe place to visit’ and instead of a few thousand visitors weekly, tens of thousands will be arriving daily from a country that leads the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths. The 18-49 year old demographic is one less apt to follow CDC guidelines and are responsible for the latest surge in cases on the mainland. They are also attracted to Hawai‘i and when we reopen they will not feel the need to be tested and they will not pay attention to self-quarantine, let alone the proper use of masks or social distancing. They feel impervious to COVID-19 and the number of record setting cases reflect such attitudes. That is one good reason to make pre-testing mandatory.
Another reason is overseeing thousands instead of hundreds of people in quarantine. It is not feasible unless each island has a controlled quarantine facility where costs are passed onto the visitor. A controlled facility works well with residents returning to their own country, but not with a visitor spending thousands of dollars for a vacation in Hawai‘i. So we will ask them to give us their word or text or phone call or perhaps a visit that they are quarantining themselves for 14 days.
If we cannot quarantine hundreds in this manner how can we quarantine thousands?
Yet the Governor is suggesting we expand the quarantine program and burden each county to an extend that it would most certainly lead to more cases and risk far too many lives.
The third reason is one that will last longer than the threat of the virus. Beginning August First, local residents will wonder whether any visitor they see in a rentacar at a restaurant or market or Luau has been tested or breaking quarantine. Some will take it upon themselves to see paperwork…others may be less civil and most will regard the visitor as a source of a quick dollar to be left at the door…Where’s the Aloha?
IF pre-testing was the only option the threat of a broken quarantine would be non- existent. It will do away with costs, fears and a lasting image that is contrary to what Hawai‘i is known for.
Is Hawai‘i a haven of beauty and revitalizations or where animosities runs wild.
Where’s the Aloha????
The visitor industry is needed more than ever, as well as diversification to secure our future. We also need to secure our safety. Make pre-testing Mandatory by contacting your Mayor, County Council, State Representatives, Governor and Federal Representatives and unite them for everyone’s sake. Many will be listening not just because of your vote, but because more is at stake…you should have a say in it!
Andy Melemed is a resident of Wailua Homesteads.