LIHU‘E — The county doesn’t want to miss out on summer tourism because it’s not participating in the state’s Safe Travels program, County of Kaua‘i Managing Director Michael Dahilig explained Wednesday.
“The late spring target is a goal that we are trying to meet with respect that we ensure there are safety nets,” Dahilig said.
Yesterday, Dahilig joined the Kaua‘i County Council for a briefing on the county’s current status of COVID-19 travel restrictions. upcoming COVID-19 initiatives and updates.
Last week, Mayor Derek Kawakami penned an opinion piece for The Garden Island first mentioned a late spring reopening.
“Thanks to your collective efforts this past year, we are in a good place to work with our community partners toward adding the state’s Safe Travels program for mainland arrivals in the late spring — provided case counts in our island, state, and across the nation remain stable,” Kawakami wrote. “By this time, we anticipate all food service and hospitality industry workers on Kaua‘i to be eligible for vaccines.”
With current low case counts, the county’s been able to focus on vaccination efforts, Dahilig said.
To date, over 22,000 doses of the vaccine have been distributed on the island, Kawakami said Wednesday in a COVID-19 briefing update. Dahilig explained that’s about 18% of the eligible population.
In the past, Kawakami has expressed support for exemptions for those who are fully vaccinated should the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health come out with support for those measures.
“We’re not trying to have more regulation, but have more voluntary, community-minded compliance rather than mandates,” Dahilig said.
Dahilig, noting that while other sectors of the economy have seen spikes like real estate and construction, did acknowledge the detrimental effects on the tourism and small business industry.
“We have heard the calls, and a lot of them have been very, very vibrant and loud when it comes to a desire to want to return to Safe Travels,” Dahilig said. “The ease of travel will help buoy that sector of the economy.”
According to the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, on Feb. 23, 8,394 people flew into the state. About 4,540 arrived on O‘ahu, 2,505 arrived on Maui and 1,243 arrived on Hawai‘i Island. Only 106 arrived in Lihu‘e.
This past month, most days, the county saw anywhere between 56 and 203 out-of-state passengers flying into Lihu‘e.
Dahilig said the work with community partners and those in the tourism and resort industry will continue to work on a date to ask Gov. David Ige for the county to be reinstated to Safe Travels, the state’s program that allows travelers to bypass a 10-day quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test.
At this time, the County of Kaua‘i participates in the program for inter-island travelers for those who have been in the state for at least 72 hours, but suspended participation to trans-Pacific travel in the hopes to keep infection rates low.
In January, the county did provide an alternative to the 10-day quarantine: a three-day quarantine at an Enhance Quarantine Movement Resort Bubble with post-arrival test. Since opening this program, Dahilig said participating resorts have changed business models and built the shortened quarantine into the experience.
“We are in a better place now than back in October and November,” Dahilig said.
To date, the county has spent over $30 million in federal and direct county resources and has activated over 370 personnel across the county, DOH and Hawai‘i National Guard since March 4, 2020, when Kawakami signed an emergency proclamation for the pandemic.
Dahlig stopped short of saying the county is in a stage of recovery, but is more so in a state of planning.
“What we’re seeing at this point is preparation to be able to layout a plan.”