Mostly virus-free Kauai hit by pandemic after travel resumes

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On Hawaii’s rural island of Kauai, the place sprawling white sand seashores and dramatic seaside mountains appeal to guests from around the globe, native residents spent the primary seven months of the pandemic sheltered from the viral storm.

Early and aggressive native measures coupled with a strictly enforced statewide journey quarantine saved Kauai’s 72,000 residents principally wholesome — the island had solely 61 identified coronavirus instances from March by means of September. However on October 15, the state launched a pre-travel testing program to reignite Hawaii’s decimated tourism financial system.

Kauai then went from having no lively infections in any respect within the first a part of October to a minimum of 84 new instances within the ensuing seven weeks. The surge seeded neighborhood transmission and led to the island’s first — and up to now solely — Covid-19 dying: Ron Clark, who labored for many years as a tour driver.

Regardless of Hawaii’s cautious effort at reopening that allowed travellers who examined detrimental for Covid-19 earlier than they flew to the state to sidestep quarantine guidelines, the Kauai spike illustrates the issue of preserving public well being — even on an remoted island — when financial restoration depends on journey. Kauai officers have determined the price of vacationing in paradise, for now, is simply too excessive.

Clark acquired Covid-19 in November and died about 10 days later. At age 84, he labored till he contracted the illness and most not too long ago shuttled airline pilots and crew to and from the airport. Airline crews are exempt from the state’s testing and quarantine guidelines.

The day after Clark’s dying, Kauai officers mentioned they might choose out of the state’s testing program and require guests to once more quarantine for 2 weeks whether or not or not they check detrimental for Covid-19 earlier than arriving.

Kauai officers say the single-test scheme didn’t do sufficient to guard the individuals who reside there. With solely 9 ICU beds and 14 ventilators, the island’s well being care system may rapidly turn into overwhelmed by a big outbreak, mentioned Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami.

Looking for to forestall such a state of affairs, Kawakami proposed a compulsory second check for all passengers after arrival. His plan would have included a brief quarantine whereas individuals awaited their second consequence.

“We predict having a detrimental check is an effective prerequisite to getting on a airplane,” Kawakami mentioned. However “when you land on Kauai … (travellers) ought to be capable of sit and funky off for 3 days.”

However the proposal was turned down by state officers, with Democratic Gov. David Ige saying the plan must be domestically funded and administered.

After the Kauai surge, the state Division of Well being traced many of the island’s October and November instances to returning residents and vacationers who introduced the virus in regardless of the pre-flight testing program.

JoAnn Yukimura, a former Kauai mayor and pal of Ron Clark’s for greater than three many years, mentioned his dying shook the neighborhood and that she continually thinks “of him being alone on the hospital. … How lonely it should have been to die.”

“Ron’s dying may appear to outsiders like such a small matter,” Yukimura mentioned. But it surely “hit us laborious as a result of we on Kauai haven’t turn into inured to dying and illness — and we don’t ever need to get that method.”

Earlier than the pandemic, Hawaii welcomed about 30,000 vacationers each day who spent practically $18 billion final 12 months.

In March, when the state’s two-week quarantine rule was imposed, vacationer arrivals and income plummeted. Customer numbers have since elevated with the testing program, however solely to a couple of third of pre-pandemic ranges.

On Kauai, 57-year-old Edwin Pascua has been unemployed from his resort bellhop job since March and worries about having contact with contaminated travellers — however would moderately be working.

“If there are safeguards in place, that may reduce all the things,” he mentioned. “I wouldn’t be as afraid.”

Pascua and his spouse, who works on the similar resort, have gotten by with unemployment advantages however he is aware of individuals who “haven’t even gotten a test but, one test from unemployment.”

Regardless of the brand new an infection surge and document deaths on the U.S. mainland, high Hawaii officers insist that the pre-travel testing program works.

“The proof is within the pudding,” Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Inexperienced mentioned. “Hawaii has the bottom fee of Covid within the nation due to this program proper now.”

Hawaii enjoys comparatively low hospitalization and dying charges, however well being specialists mentioned due to the way in which Covid-19 accumulates within the physique over time, second checks for travellers would weed out extra an infection.

Dr. Kapono Chong-Hanssen, a Native Hawaiian doctor who runs a Kauai neighborhood well being heart, mentioned the one check requirement “goes in opposition to the medical proof.”

“We’re beginning to see these huge holes within the plan and I feel it’s a matter of time earlier than we pay the value,” he mentioned.

There have been greater than 380 travel-related infections in Hawaii because the testing program was launched, based on the state well being division.

The actual variety of infections among the many basic inhabitants is believed to be far greater than what has been reported. Many asymptomatic individuals, who can nonetheless unfold the illness, don’t get examined.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the varsity of public well being at Brown College, mentioned journey restrictions for many locations at this level within the pandemic are “both counter-productive or comparatively ineffective” and may give a false sense of safety.

“There’s proof that worldwide journey bans are useful at slowing issues down,” Jha mentioned. However “until you seal your nation off utterly and do it early, it’s fairly powerful to make use of that as a method.”

Kauai, remoted by the ocean and largely protected by early restrictions, had accomplished simply that.

When the unique quarantine rule was in impact, Kauai residents went to eating places, colleges have been open and locals spent their cash locally. That may occur once more with Kauai’s reinstatement of the quarantine rule amid hopes by locals that the neighborhood will stay wholesome.

Journey “introduces a steady stream of recent infections,” mentioned Dr. Janet Berreman, Kauai’s officer for the state well being division.

“This tsunami, if you’ll, of illness,” she mentioned, “has marched throughout the mainland, from east to west. We’re just a bit farther west throughout a physique of water. However everyone needs to return right here for the vacations.”

(This story has been printed from a wire company feed with out modifications to the textual content.)

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