LIHU‘E — In March, the Tiki Iniki restaurant in Princeville Shopping Center was forced to close because of the pandemic.
They were able to reopen Aug. 7 with the help of federal funds, but now, with a mandatory, 14-day quarantine, it’ll close down again — possibly for good — this Saturday.
As of today, all travelers coming to Kaua‘i must quarantine for 14 days, as the county is temporarily opting out of the state’s pre-travel-testing program that allowed travelers to bypass the quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arrival.
“We could only reopen because we had had that stimulus PPP (Paycheck Protection Program), and we won’t be able to reopen until there is another stimulus package or tourism comes back with the two-test program that our mayor wants,” said Michele Rundgren, owner of Tiki Iniki.
Mayor Derek Kawakami initially requested to place travelers on a mandatory, three-day quarantine with a second test. Without Gov. David Ige’s approval of that plan, Kawakami then was given the go-ahead to place a temporary moratorium on Kaua‘i’s participation in the state’s pre-travel-testing program.
Rundgren said she enjoyed the success of having a business on the North Shore.
“We opened in 2013, and we have 40 employees,” Rundgren said. “I was totally for what Mayor Kawakami originally wanted, the two-test program, where the tourist would test before they came here, quarantine for three days and test again before joining Kaua‘i. I am very upset that some people are against our mayor.”
Rundgren said she supports the mayor’s first suggestion, and would rather have the people of Kaua‘i be safe than her business make a profit.
“I’d rather have everyone healthy than have a healthy bank account,” Rundgren said. “Life and health is much more important. I was really grateful for all the locals that supported us and kept us going while we waited for the tourists. We will be back again.”
Rundgren’s husband, Todd Rundgren, an American multi-instrumentalist, was also affected by COVID-19, and had to cancel three of his tours so far.
“We will have a big virtual tour in mid-February and March,” Todd Rundgren said. “Now that’s how it is. Musicians play for virtual tips.”
Erin Carrington, a physician assistant at the Specialty Clinic in Kalaheo, said she agrees with Kawakami’s proposal for a science-based, second test with limited quarantine.
“I felt that would have helped control a surge fed by community spread and fueled by infected-but-not-detected travelers to our island,” Carrington said. “When that was not approved by the governor, the mayor did the next right thing, asking for a 14-day quarantine for all travelers.”
Carrington shared her medical perspective.
“While our hospitals have worked hard putting in place surge plans, purchasing needed equipment and cross-training staff, we are still very limited on what we can do on such a small island,” Carrington said.
“Thankfully, our mayor listens to our local medical staff who can provide realistic information directly related to the needs of our island.”
Carrington said even a small surge would lead to an island-wide shutdown.
“This would directly affect our children and families who are already struggling,” Carrington said. “This would directly affect all small businesses as well. Our mayor is navigating a very difficult task in a dynamic situation, choosing the safest passage for the people of Kaua‘i through this pandemic.”
Dr. Warren Sparks of Po‘ipu Mobile MD echoed Carrington, and said he supports the mayor and his team.
“We are fortunate, on Kaua‘i, to have a cadre of very-well-informed and well-intentioned experts,” Sparks said.
“I hold in high regard Drs. Berreman, Evslin, O’Carroll and Chong-Hanssen. They can all be heard presenting on Mel (Rapozo) and Charlie’s (Iona) (Facebook) show,” he said.
“As Dr. Berreman noted, it’s not the absolute numbers, but the upward trend since Oct. 15 that is worrisome. Dr. Evslin addressed the influx of ‘infected-but-not-detected’ visitors and returning residents. For those reasons I wholeheartedly support the mayor’s decision”
He continued: “If we experience a serious surge here, we are likely to overwhelm our health-care system and our public-health system. That would lead to a total shutdown of schools and businesses. If we can continue to protect and to support one another, just hang in there for a few more months, and educate ourselves about the safety and efficacy of the proposed vaccines, there is a rainbow at the end of the storm.”
Chad Deal, a Hanalei resident since 1987, also agrees with Sparks and Carrington.
“I back our Mayor Kawakami 100% on his response during this pandemic,” said Deal, a Realtor.
“We are a small, isolated community, and if the virus catches a secure hold, it could be devastating for Kaua‘i. Our people need to pull together like we did after ‘Iniki and support each other during this crisis, and we can make it through,” said Deal.
”That not only means all of our residents working together but also our government working for us so we can come out of this with the least harm to our island’s people and our economy.”
One resident, like many on Kaua‘i who are concerned with making a living and surviving during the pandemic, is against the mayor’s decision.
“I don’t agree with the mayor’s decision because I work at the airport and rely on the tourists to come here, but no one would like to come to Kaua‘i just to spend 14 days in quarantine,” Edwin Balmores said.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 25, the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce urged members in an email to contact Ige to continue the Safe Travels program on Kaua‘i. The chamber made no further comment on this, but shared their most recent email sent to members.
“This was not an easy decision to make,” chamber President Mark Perriello said. “While the state’s Safe Travels program is far from adequate, the 14-day quarantine meant a sudden and unexpected shut down for many chamber members, and could lead to the permanent closure of many of our small businesses, putting members of our community out of work.”
Perriello went on to say that, since Oct. 15, the business community has welcomed the return of customers to their stores.
“The uptick in business means they can continue operations,” Perriello said. “Most importantly, this necessitates that their employees, including our aunties, uncles, friends and neighbors, can put food on their family’s plates this holiday season.”
Stephanie Shinno, education, business and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.