Hawaii tightens arrivals screening

After a Hawaii visitor was found guilty of violating the state’s mandatory quarantine period for new arrivals and was sent home to Los Angeles, state officials have upgraded screening and monitoring procedures. 

At a Covid-19 response update before a state legislative committee on April 17, staff from the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, who are assisting the state Airports Division with screening, said they are adding new steps and procedures to better track the arriving passengers. HTA also is working with other state agencies to come up with a plan to randomly track residents.

The airport screeners will now verify cellphone numbers before releasing the traveler and will also crosscheck addresses provided against state property tax records to ensure all of the information provided is accurate and legitimate. Visitors have been getting up to three calls from tourism workers during their stays, and those who fail to respond to any of the calls get referred to county law enforcement. Hotels may also report visitors for noncompliance.

HTA and HVCB staff have also been calling hotels to alert them of arriving visitors subject to the quarantine. The mandatory 14-day self-quarantine order took effect March 26 for trans-Pacific passengers and April 1 for interisland travelers.

Aarona Browning-Lopez, 37, was arrested April 16 in Hawaii for allegedly violating the quarantine rules. She was allowed to leave the airport even though she listed her address as a post office box. A judge found her guilty of defying the order, and she was sent back to California on April 17 through the HTA-funded Covid-19 flight assistance program run by the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii. Since the program started last week, VASH has helped return 16 visitors to their homes.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the focus of HTA has been to move 250,000 visitors out of the state,” HTA president Chris Tatum told the Covid-19 legislative committee. “We went from 30,000 a day to less than 130 a day average. We’ve closed 129 hotels. The folks that are still coming here, just so it’s clear to you, I don’t want them coming here. It’s not a good experience. I don’t want them bringing the challenges or the virus or putting any more pressure on our health system.”

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