Gov. David Ige may be on the cusp of making one of the worst political and public health mistakes of his entire term in office, with officials on Kaua‘i concerned the Governor has still failed to act on Mayor Derek Kawakami’s latest proposals to control COVID-19 on our island.
As of late Wednesday, the Governor has not disclosed whether he will approve two proposals Kawakami sent him on Monday.
One proposal reintroduced a plan the Mayor sent Ige several weeks ago. It would require that people traveling to Kaua‘i who are enrolled in the state’s Safe Travel program — that’s the one that requires a negative COVID test in order to skip an otherwise mandatory 14-day quarantine — submit to a brief, three-day quarantine followed by a second COVID test.
The second Kawakami proposal would correct an insane loophole that Ige left in the Safe Travel program. As mandated by the governor, people traveling here who have taken the test but don’t yet have results can still board the plane, fly to Kaua‘i and move freely about the island. This is simply crazy.
The Mayor’s proposal would require such people to enter into a 14-day quarantine from which they could be released if and when their test results are known and negative.
From county sources, I learned that Ige called Kawakami on Wednesday to talk.
In the conversation, Ige said he was actively considering the second of Kawakami’s two proposals. The governor would not commit to it, however, until he can work out how to communicate to tourists the fact that they would be barred from flights until their test results could be uploaded into the Safe Travel database.
It’s a fair concern since it could directly affect people who’d booked trips having been assured they could fly out here without having their test results known.
But Ige was apparently less willing to commit to the first — and more significant — proposal. Specifically, he raised concerns about requiring visitors to take and pay for a second test after they arrive and requiring even the brief quarantine.
That’s where Ige’s logic explodes. In a phone conversation Wednesday afternoon, Kawakami described conversations he’s had with visitors over the last few days in which they have told him they chose Kaua‘i because there are great airfare deals right now and they see our island as safe.
I’ve had conversations similar to those the mayor has had. You probably have, too.
If you lived in one of the dozens of states where COVID is an impending healthcare disaster, Kaua‘i’s appeal would be undeniable.
Kawakami told Ige — reasonably — that tourists should be willing to cover the cost of the second test as a reasonable condition to coming here, realizing that visitors willingly pay resort fees and many other kinds of charges. The cost of a COVID test should not discourage them if safety and being in natural beauty are their priorities.
“Based on today’s conversation,” Kawakami told me, “I am hopeful that the Governor is at least more clear as to our intent. It is a fair cost that travelers should have to pay for. Nobody can look at the enormous case counts on the mainland and say we do not need more restrictions.”
Then he added a point that, I think, will resonate widely on the island: “I definitely say that our people are worth the extra cost. One of the drawing points of Kaua‘i is the beauty and I’m wondering why we’re willing to take ourselves so cheap. The second test will be worth the cost these visitors will have to pay.
“Whether they choose to come to Kaua‘i, that’s a decision they will have to make.”
Let’s review where Kaua‘i is. Our case count is still the lowest of any county in Hawai‘i. Our ICU beds are not yet heavily occupied.
But the island’s seven-day average of newly reported cases is trending up, while the other three major counties are trending down. Granted, in Kaua‘i’s case, the numbers are still minuscule compared to places on the mainland where COVID is raging.
Our seven-day rolling average is 2.2 new cases per day. As of Wednesday, we’ve had a total of 85 cases, with one case “probable.” We’ve had no deaths. Only one patient is currently hospitalized, according to county figures.
But starting just after the trans-Pacific travel ban was lifted on Oct. 15, our counts have been going up. Granted, local people are still the most infected group, but COVID is starting to tighten its grip on Kaua‘i, with cases reported within the last couple of weeks in the Wainiha area and a new case just within the last few days involving a student at Kilauea School.
We can’t give more ground to this pandemic. Ige should act positively — and quickly — to approve both of Kawakami’s proposals.
Allan Parachini is a Kilauea resident, furniture-maker, journalist and retired public-relations executive who writes periodically for The Garden Island.