SUBSCRIBE NOW

Paradise deferred? Hawaii officials 'looking at' delaying tourist return amid spike in COVID-19 cases

Hoping to vacation in Hawaii in September?

You might have to rethink those plans.

Given the state's rapidly rising COVID-19 case counts, officials are "looking at'' delaying the start of a much-anticipated program that would allow out-of-state visitors to vacation there without quarantining for 14 days by presenting a negative COVID-19 test, Hawaii Gov. David Ige said during a news conference late Thursday.

The program, announced in June, is set to begin September 1. It was already delayed once, a month ago, due to rising cases on the mainland and in Hawaii.

"If things do not get better we will have no choice but to look at more restrictions,'' Ige said. "That means we will be looking at a delay of the transpacific pre-travel (COVID-19) testing program.''

"I know that going backwards will cause further harm to our economy,  but we have always said the health and safety of our community will be the highest priority,'' the governor said.

Ige said no decision has been made, but issued his strongest comments to date about the likelihoodof a pushback.

"With the case count increasing the way it has, it would be very difficult to implement and start the pre-travel (COVID-19) testing program on September 1,'' he said. 

He said officials want to see another "few days of data'' to see the impact of restrictions announced last week, including the closing of beaches and parks in Honolulu.

Kailua Beach, a favorite of former President Barack Obama, has earned many accolades including the top beach in the world by "Dr. Beach.''

The news come amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in Hawaii. On Thursday, the state reported 355 infections, a new daily record. To put that in perspective, when the state delayed the visitor COVID testing option the first time, Hawaii's single-day record was 42 cases.

The state also reported two more deaths from COVID-19 Thursday, two Oahu residents, bringing the state's death toll to 40.

Hawaii, which did not experience a big outbreak in the early months of the pandemic like many other states, with a total of just 900 cases from February through June, started seeing cases increase in early July as people gathered for the long holiday weekend.

It is now seeing among the biggest percentage increases in case numbers in the country, with a 33% jump in the week that ended Aug. 12, according to Johns Hopkins University. Only Vermont was higher, at 40%. California also saw a 33% jump.

U.S. travelers aren't prohibited from visiting Hawaii, but without the negative test option they have to strictly quarantine for 14 days in their hotel room or vacation rental, a policy in place since March that has scared away most tourists and wrecked Hawaii's tourism industry. Air travel to Hawaii is "almost nonexistent,'' airline industry trade group Airlines for America reported Thursday, with passenger counts down 93% from a year ago.

On Wednesday, just 586 out-of-state visitors, or a few planes full of people, flew into Hawaii, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Still, travelers' appetites for Hawaii remains strong. Honolulu and Kahului, Maui, ranked in the top 15 Labor Day weekend airline ticket bookings, according to data from TripIt. The rankings are based on reservations made between January 1 and July 30, however, so some of those those tickets were bought before the pandemic.

Would you go? Hawaiian islands weighing "resort bubble'' for vacationers