Isolated by the oceans: Hawaii, other islands reduce virus

HONOLULU: Flying to a distant beach may seem like the perfect way to escape a pandemic, but for isolated islands in the Pacific, controlling the means to cut tourism.

Hawaii has one of the lowest infection and death rates in the US. USA As cases increased in March, the governor did something no other state can do: effectively seal its borders. People who come face a two-week quarantine, halting the flow of tens of thousands of tourists who often arrive every day.

We are the most isolated community on the planet, Ige told The Associated Press last week. As such, we have to be more self-sufficient, but we also had the opportunity to quarantine, make it meaningful and most importantly, know that we could really dramatically reduce the number of visitors we receive.

With more than 2,000 miles (3,220 kilometers) of ocean separating it from the rest of the world, Hawaii has an advantage over other remote states with low infection and death rates. Unlike Alaska, Montana, and Wyoming, you can't drive or take a train to the islands, so fewer people will arrive and spread the disease as businesses begin to reopen.

But travel restrictions have hit a tourism-dependent economy, and they will be among the last to end, authorities say. Hawaii now has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

The sacrifice of keeping our community safe and healthy, Ige said, has been at the expense of more than 225,000 residents who are now unemployed, about a third of Hawaii's workforce.

Of the few places in the world without confirmed COVID-19 infections, almost all are islands in the Pacific.

American Samoa, a U.S. territory west of Hawaii, is the nation's only jurisdiction with no cases to date. Authorities have asked Hawaiian Airlines to suspend daily flights from Honolulu to try to stay virus free, and travelers must quarantine for two weeks.

All other US states and territories. The US, including the islands of Guam and Puerto Rico, has the virus. Once there, it is difficult to contain, especially if visitors keep coming.

Hawaii became the first state to require travelers to quarantine, and others have followed, though enforcement has been erratic.

Hawaii has arrested several tourists for breaking the quarantine, which can mean a $ 5,000 fine and up to a year in jail. More than 200 visitors arrived on Friday.

Travelers must give Hawaii airport officials an address to go to quarantine, which is verified, and their cell phone number. If the number does not ring in front of an agent, the visitor is turned over to the police. National Guard troops also check people for fever and other signs of illness at airports.

The state has at least 16 deaths and more than 600 confirmed cases. For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms like fever or cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more serious illnesses.

Hawaii has avoided widespread community outreach despite a few case groups, including at a Maui hospital and fast food restaurant on the Big Island.

His strategies are familiar: orders to stay at home, social distancing and closing of businesses. But the mandatory quarantine for travelers had the biggest impact.

Average daily arrivals for this time of year plummeted from about 30,000 people per day to a few hundred. Most are returning residents.

Mary Ann Jenkins left Honolulu to see family in Indiana in early April and was prepared to quarantine for two weeks when she flew home last week. She said she faced no such restrictions on the mainland.

`` There really was no problem going to Indiana, '' Jenkins said. `` When I left ... it was safer than when I got there. ''

She agrees with Ige's order to limit visits.

`` On the mainland, you can go from state to state and you keep driving on the road so you never know who, what or where you are in contact, '' Jenkins said.

Hawaii also expanded tests to close the contacts of infected people, said Lt. Gov. Josh Green, a doctor in the emergency room. Officials are now developing ways to slowly restart the tourism economy.

Green recommends that by next year, or until the virus is no longer a major threat, travelers should be tested 72 hours before arrival. And he said partnering with places like New Zealand and Australia, which also have low infection rates, could slowly rebuild tourism with countries known to be safe.

Bartender Jason Maxwell, who works at two Honolulu hotels, is trying to apply for unemployment benefits through the overloaded state system and using vacation and sick time in the meantime. Once that's out, he's not sure what's ahead.

`` It will not be easier. And I don't foresee this ending soon. So the stress of the unknown is the most important thing that is happening right now, '' said Maxwell.

The governor says he is extending unemployment benefits to more workers and allowing businesses such as real estate agencies, car dealerships and golf courses to reopen.

But the quarantine rules for travelers will last at least until May.

`` We are flattening the curve, '' said Ige. `` However, my biggest fear is that if we move too fast to reopen, we will see a surge in new cases that would result in an overflow of our healthcare system and more deaths. ''