LIHU‘E — Last week, two major sign-offs to reopening the island of Kaua‘i were announced: approval to start a “resort bubble” program, and the date for the state’s pre-travel testing program reopening strategy.
Mayor’s emergency rule No. 16, known as the resort bubble or “enhanced-movement quarantine,” was approved by the state last Wednesday to allow resorts and hotels to allow guests to utilize amenities, including pools and dining facilities. The next day, Gov. David Ige put an Oct. 15 date on reopening that would allow travelers to opt out of the two-week, mandatory quarantine.
To get out of the quarantine currently in place, both trans-Pacific and interisland travelers must provide negative results of an FDA-approved nasal swab, nucleic-acid-amplification test from a Clinical Laboratoy Improvement Amendments-certified laboratory. Upon arrival in the state, passengers without a negative test will be required to go into quarantine for two weeks, or until they can provide proof of a negative test.
Mayor Derek Kawakami acknowledged the “fluid” nature of the pandemic, and will move forward establishing the resort bubble program.
“We tend not to set milestones by specific dates, as the virus does not operate by dates and our situation is fluid,” Kawakami said. “If all goes well, we’d welcome a launch in October, but having an adequate safety plan is the highest priority. Updates will be publicized as they become available.”
For the past few days, Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau, has gotten calls theorizing what-if scenarios regarding bubbles and pre-travel testing. What she knows now, however, is that there’s more to be worked out from both the state and county before plans should be made.
“We sent out a series of questions on how this works (to the state),” Kanoho said. “We’re trying to figure out how, too.”
As it stands, the resort bubble would require each service or activity offered by a hotel to have a safety protocol, the rule states. The hotels are also required to implement employee-safety measures, provide personal protective equipment, airport shuttle services for travelers, and designated isolation areas if one were to receive a positive COVID-19 test result.
Guests would be required to wear tracking bracelets that if tampered with would alert security.
The resort bubble, Kanoho said, is a tool for an alternative soft reopening.
“Quarantine can be challenging and restrictive,” Kanoho said. “Now you’ll be able to go for a walk.”
Kawakami agreed, further saying that if there were to be an additional shutdown, the resort bubble plan would already be available.
“There are still benefits to having the resort bubble program in place. For example, some areas may not have testing available, or there may be travelers who would like to stay at a resort bubble while awaiting their test results,” Kawakami said.
“Additionally, should we experience a surge in cases several weeks or months from now, and go into another ‘shutdown’ scenario, resorts with a resort bubble plan already in place may be able to stay in operation.”
Typically, regular travelers would stay for a week. Now, travelers have been staying for four to five weeks outside of their two-week quarantine. And once quarantine is cleared, a traveler can rent a car, book a vacation rental and enjoy the island.
Many properties declined to apply for the resort bubble, stating that they’d rather wait until quarantine mandates are lifted.
The county has five resort applications, with two near finalization, working on sanitization and safety measures and protocols. One of those is Timbers Kaua‘i Hokuala Resort.
Gary Moore, managing director of the resort, said he’s working through what the state’s October reopening would mean when working through the resort bubble application.
Timbers, which opened July 1 for interisland travelers then shut its doors Aug. 12, has been hosting kama‘aina staycations.
“We’ve already implemented and rewritten and retrained our staff,” Moore said.
One of his priorities is employee safety.
“We’ve had conversations (with staff) on how to address guests if they’re not wearing masks or socially distancing,” Moore said.
He said there’s been an open line of communication with staff, and many of the 165 furloughed employees are excited to get back to work.
“With the resort bubble and pre-testing, we’re anticipating strong occupancy to bring back employees,” Moore said.
And it doesn’t stop there. Moore said the resort has been looking into bringing in local musicians to dining areas and having pop-up retail events.
“Our clients can’t leave, but if locals want to come in, they can do so,” Moore said.
It wasn’t an easy decision to try to reopen, Moore said. It’s a gamble.
“It’s not profitable,” he said. “To stay closed, you know how much you lose each month.”
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.