Hyunolu (AP) – On Hawaii’s rural island of Kauai, where white sand beaches and dramatic seaside mountains attract visitors from all over the world, local residents spent the first seven months sheltered from the pandemic storm.
Initial and aggressive local measures have been coupled with a tightly enforced statewide travel quarantine, keeping Kauai’s 72,000 residents mostly healthy – with only 61 known coronavirus cases in the island from September to March. But on October 15, the state began a pre-trip test program to rule Hawaii’s degenerate tourism economy.
There was no infection in at least 84 new cases over seven weeks. The boom promoted community broadcasting, and the island’s first – and so far only – COVID-19 died: Ron Clarke, who worked as a tour driver for decades.
Despite Hawaii’s cautious effort at reopening, travelers testing negative for COVID-19 were allowed to fly to the state before bypassing quarantine regulations, Kauai spike showed the difficulty of preserving public health Is – even on an isolated island – when economic recovery depends on travel. The authorities in Kauai have fixed the cost of spending a holiday in paradise, for now, too high.
Clarke received COVID-19 in November and died about 10 days later. At the age of 84, he worked until he contracted the disease and the airline pilots and crew from the airport and recently closed. The airline’s employees are exempted from the state’s testing and quarantine rules.
The next day after Clarke’s death, Kauai officials said they would opt out of the state’s testing program and require visitors to quarantine again for two weeks to test whether or not to test negative for COVID-19 before arriving.
Kauai officials say the single-trial plan did not do enough to protect the people living there. Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said that with only nine ICU beds and 14 ventilators, the island’s health care system could be overwhelmed by a major outbreak.
To prevent such a scenario, Kawakami proposed a mandatory second test for all passengers after arrival. His plan would include a small quarantine while people were awaiting their second result.
“We think a negative test is a good bet to get on an aircraft,” Kawakami said. But “once you land on Kauai … (passengers) should be able to sit and cool down for three days.”
But the proposal was turned down by state officials, with Democratic Gov. David Ige saying the plan would have to be funded and administered locally.
Following the Kauai rise, the Department of Health detected most of the island’s October and November cases to return to residents and tourists who brought the virus despite a pre-flight testing program.
Joey Yukimura, a former Kauai mayor and friend of Ron Clark’s for more than three decades, said her death rocked the community and she constantly thinks “of being alone in the hospital. … how lonely it must have been to die . “
Yukimura said, “Ron’s death may seem like a small matter to outsiders.” But it “hits us hard because we haven’t been prone to death and disease on Kauai – and we never want to get this way.”
Prior to the epidemic, Hawaii welcomed about 30,000 tourists daily, who spent about $ 18 billion last year.
In March, when the state’s two-week quarantine rule was implemented, tourist arrivals and revenue declined. Visitor numbers have increased since the testing program, but only to about a third of pre-epidemic levels.
On Kauai, 57-year-old Edwin Pascua has been unemployed since his hotel’s Bell Shop since March and worried about contacting infected passengers – rather would be working.
“If there are safety measures in place, that will reduce everything,” he said. “I will not be afraid.”
Pascua and his wife, who work in the same hotel, have worked with unemployment benefits, but he knows people who have “not yet taken a check, a check from unemployment.”
Despite new infections and record deaths On the US mainland, top air officials insist that the pre-trip test program works.
“The evidence is in the pudding,” Hawaii Lieutenant Government Josh Green said. “Hawaii has the lowest COVID rate in the country because of this program.”
Hawaii achieves relatively low hospitalization and mortality, but health experts said that over time the way COVID-19 accumulates in the body, other tests for travelers will treat more infections.
Dr. Kapono Chong-Hansen, a native Hawaiian physician who runs Kauai Community Health Center, said the need for a single trial “goes against the medical evidence.”
“We’re starting to see these big holes in the plan and I think it’s a matter of time before we pay the price,” he said.
According to the state’s health department, there have been more than 380 travel-related infections in Hawaii since the testing program began.
The actual number of infections among the general population is believed to be much higher. Many asymptomatic people, who can still spread the disease, do not get tested.
Dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, Drs. Ashish Jha said that travel restrictions for most places at this point in the epidemic are “either counter-productive or relatively useless” and may give a false sense of security.
“There is evidence that international travel restrictions are helpful in slowing things down,” Jha said. But “until you completely shut down your country and hurry it up, it’s much harder to use as a strategy.”
Separated from the sea and largely protected from early restrictions, Kauai did just that.
When the original quarantine rule came into force, Kauai residents went to restaurants, schools were open and locals spent their money in the community. It may be that the Kauai is restored, with the local people restoring crow rule amid hopes.
The visit “introduces a steady stream of new infections,” Kauai’s officer for the state health department, Dr. Said Janet Bereman.
“This tsunami, if you will, of disease,” he said, “across the mainland, from east to west. We are a little farther west across the body of water. But everyone wants to come here for the holidays.” “
Associated Press writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.