LIHU‘E — Mayor Derek Kawakami is asking Gov. David Ige to temporarily opt-out of the state’s Safe Travel program beginning Dec. 1.
Kawakami proposed the local emergency rule Tuesday in an attempt to level off an uptick in COVID-19 cases reported on the island.
“This is not just a tourist problem,” Kawakami said in a press release. “Nearly half of our recent travel cases are Kaua‘i residents who returned home.”
Since the state’s Oct. 15 reopening, the county has reported 58 new cases and its first on-island death, which was reported Monday. The majority of these cases, 50, were travel-related, 14 of which were diagnosed elsewhere.
The remaining 10 cases were deemed community spread among residents who did not travel, according to state Department of Health Kaua‘i District Health Office Officer Dr. Janet Berreman on Tuesday.
“We have not seen sustained community transmission in our county since July, so these cases are very concerning,” Berreman said in a press release. “It is clear that the Safe Travels program is not adequately protecting Kaua‘i from an alarming rise in cases.”
If Ige were to approve this opt-out, it would be a temporary pause in the county’s participation in the state’s pre-travel test program that allows fliers to bypass a 14-day quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test. This would be applied to residents and visitors coming from in or out of state. Modified quarantines would still be in place for essential workers.
This is the third of three rules Kawakami has submitted to Ige in the last two weeks.
One rule, to require fliers to upload their COVID-19 test prior to flying into the state, was instituted statewide and began Tuesday.
A second rule, to require a mandatory, post-arrival test following a three-day quarantine to be released, is still being considered by Ige.
“We know that a single, pre-travel test has not stopped the virus from reaching our island, and we are saddened to report our first on-island death,” Kawakami said. “We must take action to prevent the further spread of disease here.”
This third rule, to opt out, was prompted by Ige denying a mandatory post-arrival test for Kaua‘i in early October, prior to the Safe Travels program’s launch.
One of the goals of temporarily opting out would be to extend the lifespan of the county’s Tier 4 for residents, which is the least restrictive of four that determine which activities and businesses may be open based on positive case counts.
The county currently has a rolling, seven-day daily average of 3.2 cases, which is above the Tier 4 threshold of 2.0 new cases daily. If the county continues above 2.0 for two weeks, it will move to more restrictive measures, which it is on track to move by the first week of December.
“It makes no logical sense for us to move tiers while still allowing more travelers,” Kawakami said. “We shouldn’t penalize our local people by restricting activities, such as youth sports, when that’s not the current source of infection.”
The county settled on a Dec. 1 date in the proposed rule to give people time to adjust plans, “but soon enough to make necessary adjustments,” a spokesperson said.
Today, the Kaua‘i County Council will vote on a resolution urging Ige to allow the county to have a post-arrival test program.
If a post-arrival test program were to be allowed, the county has stated it would acquire additional tests for the program. The county is also considering other pandemic-response tactics used in the spring, like curfews and beach-park user fees.
“I don’t propose to know how to best manage the other counties or the state as a whole,” Kawakami said. “But our small, rural community here on Kaua‘i needs to take pause from an influx of travelers, and once again gain control of this virus as we had for so many months before. I will gladly repeal the rule once we achieve this goal.”
Sabrina Bodon, public safety reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.