What it’s like to visit Hawaii during the pandemic (Spoiler: It doesn’t sound great)

Hawaii coronavirus restrictions
Photo via INTVGene/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

Although Hawaii has the third-lowest COVID-19 infection rate in the United States, taking a vacation to the archipelago this summer does not sound like much fun. That’s because the Hawaii quarantine sounds brutal.

The state has some of the strictest COVID-19 emergency orders in the nation that will be in effect until at least June 30. Visitors traveling to any of its islands—or between the islands—must self-quarantine for two weeks before heading outside. Upon arrival, travelers must sign an order that says if they break the Hawaii quarantine, they have to pay a $5,000 fine and spend a year in prison. Hotels have gone as far as to issue single-use room keys, so they can track visitors breaking quarantine. 

On Aug. 11, new Hawaii quarantine rules went into effect for inter-island travel, because coronavirus cases were increasing in the state and the government didn’t want the virus to spread to different islands. “There is no question that the virus is surging,” Gov. David Ige said, via WKTV. “This is the last thing that we wanted to do…As we reopen our community people let their guard down. It’s been very disappointing.”

In mid-August, it was reported that Hawaii wouldn’t reopen to mainland visitors until at least Oct. 1.

In April, Ige said, “Quarantine means that you stay in your room. You can’t go to the pool. You can’t go to any facility at the hotel. You get your meals delivered. And when visitors understand that’s what it is and that we’ll enforce it, we are pretty confident they’ll choose not to be here.”

Once out-of-state travelers complete their two-week quarantine, there isn’t much to do. The state is still in a shelter-in-place, with all nonessential businesses closed. Most Hawaiian beaches and state parks are closed or are slowly re-opening with restrictions, including a rule that only two people can hike or fish together at a time.  

Hawaii is taking its rules seriously. According to Bloomberg, Hawaiian police arrested 20 people for breaking the two-week quarantine required of visitors who arrive in the state or travel between its islands. They’ve also arrested hundreds for breaking other aspects of Hawaii’s COVID-19 emergency orders. 

In a letter to the media, Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau President John Monahan explained the state has taken these extreme cautions because they don’t want to overwhelm its health care system. 

“Hawaiʻi is the most isolated landmass on the planet,” the letter said. “Supplying our islands with needed goods and services requires a complex distribution system. We also have on any given day 250,000 of our valued visitors, an almost 20% increase in our population. Our greatest fear is that this unprecedented pandemic will overwhelm our health care system for locals and visitors alike.” 

Although Hawaii’s tourism industry will take a significant hit as long as these emergency orders are in place, its strict measures could benefit the state in the long haul. Amir Eylon, a tourism-focused consultant, told the Washington Post they will help Hawaii’s image once the pandemic has passed. 

“While these acts by island destinations like Hawaii may seem to be anti-tourism, if they can avoid becoming a ‘hot zone’ for the pandemic and keep the incidence level low or even eliminate it, this may actually help their image as a safe destination for when the majority of states and other feeder markets ease restrictions on nonessential travel,” Eylon said. “Once folks begin traveling for leisure again and start looking at long-haul destinations again, those that were successful in containing the coronavirus may very well be sought after more initially than those that struggled with the illness.”

Sources: Bloomberg, Washington Post, Hawaii.gov, Hawaii Tourism

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