Balancing resort bubble and pre-travel testing

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 sbodon@thegardenisland.com.

12 Comments
  1. Dolton Kawabata September 20, 2020 3:25 am Reply

    “Quarantine can be challenging and restrictive,” Kanoho said. “Now you’ll be able to go for a walk.

    We are blessed to have such wise and merciful leaders.


  2. Ohana September 20, 2020 5:42 am Reply

    Didn’t work on the cruise ships.

    Please pre test before travel and follow up with rapid test upon arrival. Anything else is slap in the face to the people that have sacrificed dearly to stay safe.


    1. Canigetacheehoo September 20, 2020 12:43 pm Reply

      Sue kanoho not be heading this resort bubble quarantine. She works for big corporate which runs tourism. We can’t even get our kids back to school and we want tourist to be able to come and stay? Oh. And they get to leave the bubble when their quarantine time is up? To infect us who sacrificed the strictest of rules? Who are you kidding? And we the people have to hope we got great investigators to rule out quarantine breakers, fake documents, employers who turn the other way? We should have a town meeting to gather the conceus first. There’s more than just some gray areas in this plan. We sacrificed, so big corporations and their constituents should back off till we can all be safe first! I nominate Mel Ropozo to run the covid quarantine. He’s way more qualified than Sue Kanoho!! Ke akua help us all.


  3. Sad September 20, 2020 6:20 am Reply

    Until visitors are guaranteed to be cleared from the virus with test both before traveling and upon arrival, it’s not safe, and Rey are not welcome.

    Don’t expect community to embrace this extremely irresponsible plan.

    Hero bubbles bursted.


    1. Da Shadow September 20, 2020 11:42 am Reply

      to which “community” are you referring? if it’s the wealthy elite who don’t rely on visitors, you’re community is totally tone-deaf. so many of us rely on visitors for our livelihoods. consider the rest of us before you claim some are “not welcome”


  4. Whoa September 20, 2020 6:26 am Reply

    Timber’s comments are really concerning. Locals mingling in bubbles free to come and go?

    Why should bubble plan be in place in case pre testing travel ceases because of outbreak? It means it’s not safe to travel!

    In time of history of most active COVID cases, we let people that have not been tested travel here, how mad! Especially for the risk they pose to others not only here, but during the trip here.


  5. Kimchi September 20, 2020 6:37 am Reply

    Bubble traveler infecting pre-tested traveler on plane, future headline


  6. Mahina12 September 20, 2020 7:05 am Reply

    Talk about crushing hope. All these lockdowns school closures and sacrifices we made to stay safe past half year, out the window with luxury resorts thinking about their investors and money putting community, workers and other travelers at risk. So sad


  7. Kauainokaoi September 20, 2020 7:50 am Reply

    Decisions should be made to protect the people, not the other way around.

    Why wasn’t this voted on? It doesn’t represent the majority of the islands wish, and that is what the county should serve .


  8. Uncleaina September 20, 2020 8:04 am Reply

    And if someone comes in, tests positive and gets sick, they’ll have to go to Wilcox. And Kauai’s limited resources will have to take care of them. Ready Fire Aim!


  9. Mauiokjis September 20, 2020 9:03 am Reply

    The right thing to do is to burst this bubble, protect the people, add rapid arrival test to pre testing, open schools with protected boarders and serve the people not money and private interests.

    Timber’s will be fine with the 3000 dollars they charge each unit owner each month through this, while being notoriously known on island for being stringent to local vendors


  10. drsurf September 20, 2020 11:41 am Reply

    Did not see the word beach mentioned. It’s the #1 reason why visitors come here. Kapu? Shared?


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