Mayor Kawakami asks to rejoin Safe Travels

LIHU‘E — If approved, by the first week of April travelers coming to Kaua‘i may utilize the state’s single-pre-travel-test option to bypass a state-mandated quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test.

On Tuesday, Mayor Derek Kawakami submitted a proposal to Gov. David Ige requesting the County of Kaua‘i’s reinstatement into the state’s Safe Travels program, effective April 5.

“Kaua‘i remains one of the safest places in the United States throughout the pandemic, thanks to the efforts of our community-minded residents and health-focused travel restrictions,” Kawakami said in a Tuesday statement.

“Over the past few months, our community’s efforts have allowed us this opportunity to safely rejoin the state’s Safe Travels program.”

The April date will give the county time to inoculate essential workers in the tourism industry.

“The (state) Department of Health is confident that hospitality- and food-service-industry employees will be offered vaccines in the month of March,” said Sarah Blane, Kawakami’s chief of staff.

More than 24,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, of both the Moderna and Pfizer, have been distributed across first responders, health-care professionals and staff, educators and kupuna over 75, as well as essential workers like grocery-store clerks and agriculture laborers.

State DOH Kaua‘i District Health Office Officer Dr. Janet Berreman said vaccine distribution played a factor in her support.

“It has been one year since the pandemic reached Hawai‘i, and we thank the people of Kaua‘i for their sacrifices which have allowed us to remain safe, healthy and open,” Berreman said.

“With the distribution of vaccine to high-risk groups and the improving situation on the mainland, the Kaua‘i District Health Office supports opening trans-Pacific travel with a single pre-travel test at this time,” said Berreman.

Additionally, the county has worked with hospitals and care providers on action plans.

“Our local hospitals are working closely together, and have surge plans in place for additional ICU capacity if needed,” Kawakami said. “They have also obtained more equipment and have COVID testing and treatment options available to respond to any increase in COVID-19 cases.”

The state launched its Safe Travels program in mid-October last year, which allows travelers to bypass a state-mandated, 10-day quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of travel through a state-approved partner.

After a series of requests for post-arrival testing options that were denied, the County of Kaua‘i was given approval to enforce a full quarantine, temporarily suspending its participation in Safe Travels in December, effectively halting a spike in infections linked to travel and community spread.

Since Jan. 5, the county began allowing inter-island travelers to participate in Safe Travels, so long as they can prove physical presence in the state for at least 72 hours.

Out-of-state travelers who do not stay on another island for three days prior may stay at a resort bubble with a negative pre-travel test. After three days contained to the resort’s property, these travelers may take another COVID-19 test. Upon a negative result, they are released from quarantine. This post-arrival test falls under U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for both pre- and post- travel tests.

“While post-travel tests will not be mandatory, we are grateful to our visitor-industry partners for going above and beyond to keep our community safe by encouraging their guests to take a test after arrival,” Kawakami said. “We have a number of Kaua‘i properties already committed, and we expect more to come online in the coming weeks.”

The county’s rules, which currently differ from other islands, hurt an already-devastated tourism industry, which saw a 74% drop in visitor arrivals from 2019 to 2020, according to a preliminary Hawai‘i Tourism Authority report in January.

At the state’s House of Representatives, House Bill 1286, which seeks to establish a unified Safe Travels program, has been moving through committees with the support of many hoteliers and business owners.

This bill, Blane said, did not have any impact on the county’s request.

“As with all other Kaua’i COVID policy decisions, we relied on guidance from our health officials, namely the ability for our district health office to offer vaccines to our high-risk populations, such as first responders, hospitality-industry workers and our kupuna,” Blane said in an email.

Mark Perriello, president of the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce, commended this step and Kawakami’s efforts.

“This means visitors to Kaua‘i will no longer face additional hurdles to vacationing here, and that should lead to an increase in tourism,” Perriello said. “With so many of our residents dependent on tourism to feed their families, this is a welcome development.”

Without tourism, businesses and resorts have struggled.

“When tourists don’t spend money on Kaua‘i, many of our residents have trouble feeding their families and keeping a roof over their head,” Perriello said.

Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau, pointed to tourism partners who have been struggling.

“We have all worked hard to protect our island community from the COVID pandemic, and believe now is the right time to rejoin Safe Travels,” Kanoho said. “Special thanks to the visitor industry, who have supported their employees during this challenging time.”

Proof of a vaccine is not an option to bypass the quarantine, per state rules, and non-Kaua‘i residents will not be allowed to receive vaccines on-island.

“We continue to monitor new developments, particularly the transmission of new variants, and we emphasize the need for everyone to continue to practice mask-wearing, physical distancing and other safety precautions,” Berreman said.


Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or

  1. Mark Spencer March 3, 2021 2:20 am Reply

    That’s great! One question: what are the proposed guidelines for staying open? I mean what’s the acceptable threshold fore the spike? There will be an increase of COVID cases and just like every where else it will be dealt with. But what is the actual number of acceptable cases going to be before another lock down occurs? No one is happier then myself about Kauai reopening but moving forward is it 5 new cases, 7 new cases, or a random number not yet decided. Before small businesses spend what little they might be able to beg borrow, or steal to try and salvage a business that took years to build up, they deserve a rock solid answer. Wish washy lip service will not cut it this time. Please for the love of Beautiful Kauai what is the number, what is the plan.

    1. CommonSenseish March 4, 2021 12:24 pm Reply

      If you really think about it, the # of acceptable cases could vary. As you know we have households here with 10-15 people living in them. If one household gets it, let’s say 10 new cases, why should that have any affect since it’s all contained. I could understand some small concern if there were multiple cases of community spread. But we need to open up and have Kawakami invite ALL , not just the ones with money.

  2. Jon Adamek March 3, 2021 6:47 am Reply

    Not very clear because of how you ended your article. Will the quarantine be lifted or not. A simple yes or no would suffice.

    1. Kara Thrace March 3, 2021 12:05 pm Reply

      The whole article is about rejoining Safe Travels and avoiding quarantine as long as you provide a negative test taken within 3 days of arrival to Kauai…

      Safe Travels requires a quarantine statewide if you don’t provide negative test results.

    2. Paulo March 3, 2021 12:50 pm Reply

      “On Tuesday, Mayor Derek Kawakami submitted a proposal to Gov. David Ige requesting the County of Kaua‘i’s reinstatement into the state’s Safe Travels program, effective April 5.”

      The Governor says yes or no when he reviews the request.

  3. Meh March 3, 2021 7:11 am Reply

    He had 12 months to prepare. Same excuses. Come out and say you’re gonna open in late May. Then realize that 80% of the island residents are fed up with you borderline dictatorial mandates. Then ask to rejoin saying you’re ready now….5 months later than the initial safe travel proclamation. Derrick is a weak boy. The bubbles and county must have recouped enough of the investment and now we can all have a chance to salvage what little is left. People. Please don’t forget what these politicians and country councils did this past year.

    1. Jamie Rainbow March 3, 2021 3:04 pm Reply

      I’m glad to see you have your finger on the pulse of the people of Kauai. That said the people of Kauai I talk too think the powers that be have done a great job and are very happy with the mayor and my number is 83% are happy. I guess it depends on who you hang out with. The real truth will be played out without lies and number manipulation after the next election and then one of us can come back and say I told you so.

      1. CommonSenseish March 4, 2021 12:28 pm Reply

        Definitely who you are hanging out with… because my #’s of Kawakami approval are probably exact opposite, very low approval rating. He has made this island scared of tourism and has the audacity to push for only the people with big money to visit. I don’t think he is for the people, just another local guy who’s family owns things and has been brought into the corrupt political world of Kauai.

        1. Khsgrad March 9, 2021 4:57 pm Reply

          It’s about time

  4. Peter March 3, 2021 7:52 am Reply

    King K. has done an excellent job in preventing residents from being infected by Covid.

    However he has done a terrible job in being transparent about his decisions, communicating with all stakeholders, and with being empathic to the needs of the small business community.

    Kauai County now has the highest unemployment rate in the entire USA. How many businesses have had to permanently close due to the lack of financial support ? How many life savings have gotten wiped out due the King K.’s sudden, impetuous decision to leave the Safe Travels program shortly after setting up a Tier system !

    1. John March 3, 2021 4:42 pm Reply

      “Kauai County now has the highest unemployment rate in the entire USA”

      Um, that’s not saying much, @Peter, when our population is only 72,000 people, LOL.

      “How many life savings have gotten wiped out?”

      Cry me a river; nobody asked you to invest your “life savings” in snorkels or souvenirs. Tourism is one of the most unstable and unpredictable sectors of the business world. You Chamber of Commerce crybabies should have set some $ aside for emergencies instead of blowing it all on trips to Vegas and new Tacomas.

      1. peter March 4, 2021 8:27 am Reply

        Clearly you don’t care about anybody but yourself.

      2. Raj March 4, 2021 9:01 am Reply

        This comment is absolutely dripping with condescension for the working people who have lost jobs and income during all of this. If you think it’s just wealthy business owners who have suffered you have your head in the clouds. The working class have been hit the hardest, as always

      3. Ashley March 4, 2021 9:18 am Reply

        Ha! @ John, tell em like it is! Yours is the best comment yet!

  5. Paulo March 3, 2021 10:01 am Reply

    I understand Mayor Kawakami’s concern for our unemployed workers and so he wants Kauai back into the state SAFE TRAVELS plan for tha reason.

    I get it, but it is not safe. The traveler gets just one test within 72 hours of flying and regardless of any COVID infection he may pick up after that, or that he might have had at the time of the test but which was new enough not to show, can now move freely around the island.

    How many of us even with pre existing health issues are still waiting for the first vaccination? Most of Kauai residents have had no vaccination period. We will now be mixing with travelers who could carry C-19 as we do our shopping and essential errands. But employment may pick up and for that I am happy. For our health, I am not.

    No matter what our mayor choses, some will not be happy.

    1. John March 3, 2021 4:50 pm Reply

      It is a ridiculously UNsafe plan, but Mayor K is under immense pressure from the Chamber of Commerce crybabies, who feel that their bottom lines have priority over human lives. Meanwhile, Kauai schools are still closed despite there not being ANY covid cases in any of our schools or among our youth, and yet Kawakami is more concerned about appeasing the cigar-chomping fat cats of the tourism sector than local working-class families. In sum, the mayor’s priorities are upside down, just like his office.

      1. Mike March 3, 2021 9:56 pm Reply

        Concur with John. Anyone who bothers to read CDC guidance or pay attention to what is currently happening internationally in places like Europe (again), knows what’s going to happen. Mr. Mayor, deny all you want. Open up if you want, but let’s not pretend this is anything other than a business decision to placate business owners. But I truly wonder what the pulse of the island really is. Sure, the owners of the shops selling worthless, shiny trinkets to tourists are pretty vocal in this forum. But are the working-class really clamoring for it? The PR spin that the “most vulnerable will be protected” by April 1 is nonsense. Group 1C vaccinations haven’t begun, and what’s the plan for folks over the age of 65 or with pre-existing health conditions?

      2. unemployed 'crybaby' March 4, 2021 3:41 am Reply

        wow john, i didn’t expect to see this level of hate from a fellow kauaian. all of us unemployed ‘crybabies’ are astonished at how tone-deaf the rich elites like you are.
        consider the thousands of us who have lost jobs, suffered drastic drops in income before you say such hateful things about us and our livelihoods.

        1. CommonSenseish March 5, 2021 12:17 pm Reply

          I re-read John’s post 3 times and think you have mistaken what he was saying. I am all for opening back up so I don’t agree with him. But I think he is referring to the politically rich people. Because Kawakami doesn’t want the lower class to visit, their money is no good on Kauai, according to Kawakami. So, instead of getting insulted by John, I’d start looking at who is actually keeping you from working… FYI Kawakami and his staff get yearly raises which he and all his staff willingly accepted. With the furloughs going on I would have thought they would have suspended raises, at least for the upper management… but anyways. Yeah, so how’s the weather over there?

  6. I saw a Vampire once March 3, 2021 3:45 pm Reply

    I don’t it’s going to get busier. No tourism. The only thing needed is a good plan of attack to ward off the virus. The travel industry must see to this and comply. It will be slow season still on Kauai. No jobs around in the tourist industry. Even though Starlight luau Hawai’i in Oahu has taken the first steps to bring back in dining luau style, over 200 + in one location, still afar off to normal. Hilton Hawaiian Village. Waikiki

  7. I saw a Vampire once March 3, 2021 3:52 pm Reply

    They have their first luau show in 1 year. On site. This Friday night. It is expected to be full house at 300+ attendance at Starlight luau on Oahu. Face mask yet, but the 6 feet rule apart has been altered. This in one location in Waikiki. Friday night. So it’s coming back to full house. But slowly. Let’s see if COVID-19 is there.

  8. Connie March 5, 2021 5:18 am Reply

    I’ll have to agree, health is a top priority. As a first time visitor arriving in April, please know that we plan to quarantine the week before travel, test the 3 days before & stay masked in airports & on the plane. We promise to distance as best we can. We plan to continue these practices throughout our stay in Kauai. To do otherwise is irresponsible. We choose to book in Kauai because your precautions match our careful mindset.
    Our state in the Midwest is inconsistent with the mask mandate, therefore, we have been home for the past year. I can personally count the times I’ve left the house for in person medical appointments & in person shopping. Bless the businesses who have enforced masks!
    We look forward to our visit to your beautiful Garden Island. Mahalo!

  9. Connie March 5, 2021 5:26 am Reply

    PS: we are vaccinated. Our children & grandchildren are not. It’s important to be careful for those who are waiting their turn.

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