BIG ISLAND

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  • June 25, 2021 9:20 AM | Holly Cunningham (Administrator)

    Hawaii to Waive Testing Requirements for Fully Vaccinated U.S. Travelers Starting Next Month

    Starting July 8, all travelers were vaccinated in the United States will be allowed to upload their vaccination card to Hawaii's Safe Travels Program in lieu of the previously-required COVID-19 PCR test.

    By Alison Fox

    June 25, 2021

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    Hawaii

    Credit: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

    Hawaii will allow fully vaccinated domestic travelers to skip pre-arrival testing and quarantine requirements, the state's governor said Thursday.

    Starting July 8, all travelers were vaccinated in the United States will be allowed to upload their vaccination card to Hawaii's Safe Travels Program in lieu of the previously-required COVID-19 PCR test, Gov. David Ige's office announced.

    By that date, Ige said he expects Hawaii will have reached a 60% statewide vaccination rate. Currently, 62% of all residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine and 57% are fully vaccinated, according to Hawaii's Department of Health.

    "Our residents have sacrificed and worked hard to get to this point, but we still have more to do," Ige said in a statement. "Please get vaccinated to protect yourselves and your loved ones. We are close to achieving a 70% vaccination rate, at which point all restrictions will end and we can return to the lives we remember."


    ×Unvaccinated visitors will still be required to get tested before traveling at a "trusted partner" site in order to skip quarantine.

    The new protocols come weeks after Hawaii lifted all restrictions on inter-county travel and started allowing fully vaccinated residents who received their COVID-19 shots in Hawaii to travel back to the state without the need to get a pre-travel test or quarantine. In May, the state also lifted its outdoor mask mandate, in line with the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Ige said the state will lift all travel restrictions when it hits a 70% overall vaccination rate.

    Beyond travel protocols, Ige said he will allow restaurants to increase capacity to 75% on July 8.

    Hawaii's vaccination rate is higher than the country overall where 53.7% of people have received at least a first dose and 45.6% are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.


  • June 07, 2021 12:41 PM | Holly Cunningham (Administrator)

    Aloha!


    Please click on following link for some great travel news to come!!

    https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/hawaii-sets-plan-lift-travel-143500400.html


  • June 03, 2021 8:22 AM | Holly Cunningham (Administrator)

    Vacation Rentals Continue To See High Demand, But Regulations Create Uncertain Future

    Hawaii Public Radio | By Casey Harlow

    Published June 1, 2021 at 8:38 AM HST


    vacation_rental_beach_house_patio.jpg

    Vacation rentals again outperformed hotels in occupancy rate for the month of April. That's according to a recent report from the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority that tracked the monthly performance of vacation rental units in the state. But as leisure travel continues to pick up, the demand for rentals hasn't slowed down.

    Business is booming for vacation rental operators like Cindy Wild, a real estate agent and vacation rental host on Hawaiʻi Island.

    "For this entire year, I have one week left in the calendar to book," Wild said. "And we're booked all the way to the end of March 2022."

    Like everything else in 2020, business stopped for vacation rental operators. But hosts slowly started seeing business pick up last October. In its latest report for April, rentals had a 66% occupancy rate, compared to the 51% hotels saw.

    Wild says there were signs of increased demand for rentals on Hawaiʻi Island start to pick up in October.

    Since then, it has exploded.

    "Part of it is the hotels have not completely opened to full occupancy. So they don't have as many rooms," she said. "But looking at what's going on right now at the hotels, especially on this island, they're really, really expensive. My place can get rented out between $185 to $199 a night. And Hapuna is $1100!"

    During the month of April, the statewide average daily rate for a rental unit was $238. In comparison, the average daily rate for hotels was $300.

    The economic impact of vacation rentals

    2020 HTA study highlighted the impact of the home rental market in the state. It estimated that in 2018, visitors staying at vacation rentals spent roughly $3.3 billion. That includes the accommodation price, food and beverage, transportation and retail spending. Researchers also estimated 46,000 jobs were supported annually by home or vacation rental guests at that time.

    The report also states "direct, indirect and induced state government tax revenue generated totals an estimated $347.4 million as of 2018."

    On the county level, rentals also contribute to local governments. Jen Russo, executive director of the Maui Vacation Rental Association, says 37% of the county's real property tax revenue comes from vacation rentals.

    "Vacation rentals are also the largest source of revenue for Maui's affordable housing fund," she said. "This fiscal year, vacation rentals will raise $5.6 million for the affordable housing fund. And for the last three years combined, they've raised $7.1 million. This is not including the TAT and GET taxes."

    Like hotels, vacation rentals also support a wide range of local businesses.

    "Just the same as the hotels, these people that are staying here are shopping at our grocery stores, are going to our restaurants, they're fueling our economy by spending money here," Wild said. "But we also employ a lot of different people. I have to replace things at my condo - putting in new AC, so laborers and contractors."

    On top of that, Wild says there are companies that manage vacation rentals on Hawaiʻi Island that employ and support businesses such as landscapers, cleaners, accountants and more.

    County regulations

    The popularity of rentals in the islands has brought some negative impacts. The use of housing inventory in residential neighborhoods changed the way residents perceive how tourism is managed. A 2019 HTA resident sentiment report surveyed 1,700 residents across the state. Among residents who said tourism brought more problems than benefits, on average they felt there was more traffic, visitors had little respect for the culture or tradition, and there was overcrowding.

    "Studies have been shown that over 30% of the people go to vacation rentals wouldn’t come to Hawaiʻi if they couldn’t go to a vacation rental," said Rick Egged, executive director of the Waikīkī Improvement Association. "So, to me, there’s your answer, you want to reduce the number of visitors – get rid of vacation rentals. And I think this is something we have to work on as a community."

    To address resident concerns, county councils and administrations have proposed and implemented regulations to address illegal vacation rentals. But those rules often impact legal operators.

    "Many people feel like the county wants their money, but they don't feel that they're getting the support as a small business owner," Russo said.

    On Hawaiʻi Island, Wild says she doesn't have an issue with her unit, because it's located on Aliʻi Drive - traditionally an area with high visitor traffic. The county currently allows legal rentals to continue to operate, but the no longer allows the addition of new units. (In residential zoned areas)

    For rentals in residential areas, operators had to go through a process to obtain a non-conforming use permit, which would have to be renewed every year.

    As a real estate agent, Wild says she knows there are issues surfacing for those renewing their permit with the county. She says one operator has been waiting since November 2020 to have their permit renewed.

    "Even though the homeowner has done everything that they were supposed to . . . but the county hasn't even processed it," she said. "You know we're halfway through the year, then it's going to be November again, it's going to time to renew again, and [the county] won't have even sent out the new placard for this year."

    Wild believes the county didn't establish an efficient system for the renewal process, and faces issues with staffing. And because of the county's new regulations, legal operators in the renewal process could possibly lose permit their permit for good.

    "Let's say that the homeowner didn't renew [their permit] within 30 days of their expiration date. They would have lost their non-conforming use permit, and they would never be able to get it back because they are not issuing new non-conforming use permits," Wild said.

    Legal vacation rentals face an uncertain future with current and future regulations. Hosts say they hope they can work with lawmakers and communities to strike a balance.

    But in the meantime, Wild, and other hosts like her, are cashing in on the pent-up demand from travelers.


  • October 23, 2020 4:11 PM | Holly Cunningham (Administrator)

    County Readjusting Post COVID Test Program

    By Tiffany DeMasters

    October 22, 2020, 6:48 AM HST (Updated October 22, 2020, 11:34 AM)
    • T

    Mayor Harry Kim. PC: Team Ige

    Hawai‘i County is currently looking at offering its post-arrival COVID-19 rapid antigen test to trans-Pacific travelers four days after arrival on the island instead of the day they fly in.

    The post-test, currently required of all travelers before they leave the airport, has yielded one positive and nine false positives out of approximately 3,600 people who have landed on the Big Island since the state launched its pre-travel coronavirus testing program on Oct. 16.

    The state’s program requires individuals to provide a negative COVID test 72 hours before coming to the islands if they wish to avoid the mandatory 14-day quarantine. Mayor Harry Kim said the vast majority of people coming from the mainland were getting their test within 24 hours before arriving on the Big Island, noting it wasn’t a productive use of resources.

    “No one disagrees that more than one test is good,” the mayor stated. “What we’re doing now is looking at how we can continue the second test on Hawai‘i island and how we can go with the two-test system to make it more meaningful.”

    The county has been working with Premier Medical Group (PMG) to provide this post-test, requires travelers to submit to a PCR test if the antigen test comes back positive. Moving forward, Kim said, he hopes to set up three testing sites, Kona, Hilo and the Kohala Coast, where people can go to test on their fourth day after arriving on the island.

    The Mauna Lani Luxury Resort has already agreed to set up a coronavirus operations center, which would allow for testing and provide information on the disease. Dr. Kaohimanu Akiona with PMG is currently tasked with finding locations in Kona and Hilo.

    Kim thinks it would be nice to have a database of 8,000 to 10,000 already in the system before setting up these test sites, which he thinks they’ll have by the weekend. The mayor added that he hopes to get the sites in place by early next week.

    Until then, post-travel testing will continue at the airports. Even if the test is successfully moved to another site, Akiona said, PMG staff will still be at the airport to capture and register all the arrivals, noting that while they can’t require quarantine, they can still collect information, i.e. names, how they can be contacted, etc.

    Akiona is aware of the possibility that these trans-Pacific travelers won’t come for a post-test. However, she still thinks it’s a good idea.

    Akiona thinks that there are ways to make the four-day post-test work if there is an incentive or they have to quarantine to get the test.

     

     

     

     






  • October 13, 2020 7:23 PM | Holly Cunningham (Administrator)

    Governor David Ige

     

    Today I signed a 14th supplementary emergency proclamation that extends the COVID-19 emergency period through Nov. 30 (https://bit.ly/2SPvCKH)

    The emergency proclamation leaves in place the 14-day mandatory quarantine requirement for out-of-state travelers. However, beginning Oct. 15, a pre-travel testing option will allow travelers an alternative to the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

    I want to remind all travelers that following safe practices – at home, while traveling and upon returning – is the only way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Wear a face mask, wash your hands frequently and watch your distance around other people, even if you’ve recently tested negative for COVID-19.

    Travelers, five years and older, who do not want to be subject to the state’s 14-day mandatory travelers quarantine must take an approved COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to departure from the final leg of travel. If results are not received prior to arrival, the traveler will be required to self-quarantine until a negative test result is reported to the state Dept. of Health.

    The state will accept test results from trusted testing and travel partners only. A complete list can be found at https://hawaiicovid19.com/travel-partners/

    Negative test results may be uploaded to the Safe Travels Digital Platform at https://travel.hawaii.gov/#/, and all travelers must also complete the state’s mandatory travel and health form on this digital platform.

    The proclamation allows counties to require a subsequent test after arrival into the state. Such a test would be paid for and administered by the county. People arriving in a county that requires a post-arrival test do not need to self-quarantine prior to obtaining the subsequent test. Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or who anyone who tests positive at any point in their stay must take steps to isolate or quarantine as directed by the Dept. of Health.

    The inter-island quarantine for travelers arriving in the counties of Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i, Maui and Kalawao (Kalaupapa) remains in place. However, the proclamation empowers the counties to adopt a negative test exception process for travelers subject to the inter-island travel quarantine.

    The proclamation also:

    • Extends the prohibition on evictions for non-payment of rent until Nov. 30.
    • Extends the expiration dates of expired/expiring state IDs and driver's licenses until Nov. 30.

    Four more trusted testing and travel partners:

    • Alaska Airlines
    • American Airlines
    • Bartell Drugs
    • Port of Oakland

    For more information on the State of Hawaiʻi’s pre-travel testing program, visit https://hawaiicovid19.com/.

    https://governor.hawaii.gov/.../office-of-the-governor.../

  • October 06, 2020 1:47 PM | Holly Cunningham (Administrator)

    West Hawaii Today article seems to clarify the previous article released by the Star Tribune.

    Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim has not made a ‘definitive decision’ to opt out of the Oct. 15 pre-travel testing program.

    “A definitive decision has not been made yet — it’s forthcoming this week,” Maurice Messina, Kim’s executive assistant and chief of staff, said Tuesday morning.

    Messina said opting out of the pre-travel testing option means that travelers to the Big Island would have to quarantine for 14 days.

    “The reason the Mayor opted out was because the science shows that one test has too much risk. We have been told that the one test would catch only 40% of the potential positives, even if Lt Gov Green claims 80%. Even at 80%, the number of positives being introduced to our community is high. A second test after arrival significantly reduces that risk,” Messina said.

    By opting out, Messina said the mayor is seeking more time to put into place the second test or even a third COVID-19 test for arriving passengers.

    “To do this by October 15 may be a challenge, hence the only choice at the moment may be to opt out. The opt out period would be only the time needed to stand up the 2nd test,” he said. “A team addressing the logistics for the second test is actively working to have this in place as soon as possible. “

    The final decision will be made in coordination with the state and other counties.

    “The Mayor is still weighing options, whether to hold to the opt out or find an acceptable risk option to opt in. A definitive decision is forthcoming this week based on the information from the team and coordination with the State and other counties,” Messina said.
  • October 06, 2020 9:35 AM | Holly Cunningham (Administrator)


    Keep up to date with news about travel, business, local elections, state policies, and more

    Report: Big Island opts out of pre-travel testing program

    BIVRA Members,

    The Honolulu Star Advertiser is reporting that the Hawaii County  Mayor Harry Kim has decided to opt-out of the pre-travel testing program set to start October 15th.

    Hawaii County Mayor Kim is quoted saying "All of us want to open up our economy, (but) … I made a decision that the risk factor in regards to doing this at this time is not an acceptable risk as far as endangering Hawaii’s people,” Kim said, adding that he is trying to come up with a plan to address issues involving reopening tourism."

    Find the article here: https://www.staradvertiser.com/2020/10/06/hawaii-news/big-island-opts-out-of-pre-travel-testing-program/

    It is unconscionable for Mayor Kim to make this decision 10 days before the pre-travel testing program is to begin.  Vacation rentals, hotels, and resorts have already begun accepting reservations for October and November in anticipation of the pre-travel testing program. 

    The Big Island has effectively been shut down since March.  The pre-travel testing program is a reasonable approach that balances safety with the need to re-open and welcome visitors again.  Further delay will needlessly deepen the economic devastation that has been inflicted on Big Island families and businesses.

    BIVRA is meeting with legal counsel later this afternoon to discuss potential options to fight this wrong-headed decision.  

    Stay Tuned.

    Mahalo,
    Big Island Vacation Rental Association

  • September 24, 2020 9:29 AM | Holly Cunningham (Administrator)

    United Airlines announced Thursday that it is launching a pilot program to make COVID-19 tests available for its customers heading to Hawaii. 

    Starting Oct. 15, United passengers flying from San Francisco International Airport will be able to take a rapid coronavirus test at the airport, or purchase a mail-in test ahead of their trip. 

    Hawaii's governor announced last week that starting Oct. 15, travelers arriving from out of state may bypass a 14-day quarantine requirement if they test negative for COVID-19. 

    United said it worked with Hawaii officials to ensure that the airline's pilot program would align with the state's guidelines. United said it's the first U.S. airline to make COVID-19 tests available to its customers. 

    “Our new COVID testing program is another way we are helping customers meet their destinations’ entry requirements, safely and conveniently,” said Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer at United. Enqvist added that they're looking to expand customer COVID-19 testing to other destinations and U.S. airports later this year.


    The COVID-19 tests are available to passengers flying from San Francisco to Hawaii, but United says it plans to expand to other destinations and airports this year.

  • September 16, 2020 4:52 PM | Holly Cunningham (Administrator)

    Hawai‘i’s pre-travel COVID-19 testing program will launch on Oct. 15, Gov. David Ige announced in a press conference this afternoon. Tourism has all but halted across the state since late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The hope for this program is it will protect public health and revive the economy.

    “We’re committed to restoring and revitalizing the economy,” Ige said.

    Travelers will be exempt from the state’s 14-day quarantine if they return a negative result after submitting to a test 72 hours prior to arrival in Hawai‘i.


    Lt. Gov. Josh Green was present at the press conference through Zoom, as he is currently positive for COVID-19. He explained the state has worked for months on the pre-travel testing program.

    “It’s going to be another tool as a layer for safety for our residents and visitors,” Green said.

    Green said all arriving passengers, adults and children, will be required to take a test prior to their arrival in Hawai‘i. If the results are not available by the time they get to the state, Green said, those travelers will be required to quarantine until results are returned.


    The state is partnering with CVS and Kaiser Permanente to provide testing for mainland travelers. Green said visitors will be responsible for the cost of the test, which will be approximately $139.

    Ige added that part of the agreement with those partners is they will conduct a test and commit to returning a result in three days. The governor assured the state and its partners are working on establishing a procedure to verify the validity of a test.

    “As the world gets closer to a vaccine, we’re developing a strategy for delivering a vaccine to everyone in the community,” Green said. “It will not be mandatory.”

    The conversation on when to lift the 14-day inter-island quarantine is ongoing with a task force from each county.

  • September 10, 2020 9:54 AM | Holly Cunningham (Administrator)

    Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Wednesday that he does not see any reason the state could not reopen to trans-Pacific travelers on Oct. 1.

    “If we can get the numbers down to 70 (daily positive cases) consistently, that is something we can maintain in our hospitals, there is no reason we couldn’t open up to tourism and open our schools,” said Green, a Big Island physician, during a Honolulu Star-Advertiser Facebook livestream.

    The state Department of Health announced 100 new positive cases Wednesday, with 10 new cases on Hawaii Island and 90 on Oahu. Also reported Wednesday were three new coronavirus-related deaths on Oahu, bringing the death toll statewide to 91.

    Overall case numbers as of Wednesday were City and County of Honolulu, 9,146; Maui County, 360; Hawaii County, 533; and Kauai County, 58.

    According to Green, an average of 0.58% of people have tested positive during surge testing on Oahu, which is about 5-6 people per 1,000 tests.

    “The numbers are much better, but it is certainly a challenge,” Green said. “We reported 66 positive cases yesterday, although there was limited testing over the holiday weekend, and 100 cases today.”

    Green reported that active cases are tipping downward from 6,874 to 3,912, and spoke about hospital numbers as well.

    “We are now at 240 individuals in the hospital, down from a peak of about 315 or so. … We’ve been steadily declining and that’s usually a reflection of decrease in the overall disease burden in the state,” Green said.

    These are important things because Hawaii needs to reopen retail, restaurants and tourism, the lieutenant governor said, and “we’re on the precipice of that.”

    Green said a soft opening for tourism makes sense with two proposals for testing.

    Green is proposing a PCR test, which detects the virus’ genetic material, be required within three days of travel. If the tester receives a negative result, then they can travel from the mainland to Hawaii.

    His second proposal is to require an antigen test, which detects specific proteins on the surface of the virus, that can be taken on the mainland within three days of travel and again in Hawaii. The antigen tests are about $22 and provide a rapid result within 15 minutes.

    “This is what I believe will be the right plan,” Green said. “ … Given the case rates and the positivity rates, it’s pretty good.”

    The state should be able to reopen tourism in three weeks, followed by schools two weeks later.

    “As long as we’re giving enough access to tracing and testing for everybody, we can keep an eye on it,” Green said.

    “… We are watching every case by the minute … and it’s something that becomes more sophisticated every day,” he added. “Sooner or later we’re going to have to bite the bullet.”

    Green is also advocating for public schools to open for face-to-face learning on Oct. 13.

    Green said he will be proposing a plan that will allow eight locations for testing in each county. Children in school, teachers, first responders and other front-line workers can get same day tests.

    “This testing could provide a ton of extra support and it’s a doable thing,” Green said. “It’s better than waiting too long, because I’m not sure a vaccination will come in the fall or winter. If parents or teachers think it’s too much risk, then I understand that.”

    When asked if Hawaii’s infrastructure is ready for testing for tourism and schools, Green thinks the state will be ready.

    “We already have relationships in place with CVS, Kaiser and Walgreens is coming on, and when we finalize the decision to allow for rapid antigen testing anywhere as long as we do a follow-up, it opens up testing everywhere,” Green said. “It opens the scope and makes everything easier, which is what we need to do. We need to make plans accessible and not burdensome.”

    “I don’t think travelers coming in is going to be a big worry,” Green added. “I think it’s going to be continued community spread if we don’t do a good job testing people.”

    Last week, Gov. David Ige announced that Bruce Anderson, director of the state Department of Health, will be retiring Sept. 15. Dr. Libby Char will serve as interim director effective Sept. 16.

    The DOH revealed last Thursday that State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park will be taking a paid leave of absence as well. Deputy Director Danette Wong Tomiyasu, who is working with Dr. Emily Roberson, has been put in charge of all disease investigation and immunization activities.

    With the changing leadership at the DOH, Green is enthusiastic about the potential changes in contact tracing.

    “Going forward, Dr. Libby Char, who is a physician, is fantastic,” Green said. “She’s very subdued, extremely smart and she will provide good health leadership, so that’s a big plus.”

    Park’s departure clears the way for Roberson and her team. They have about 200 contact tracers and plan to bring on 125 new tracers in the next two to three weeks.

    The ultimate goal, according to Green, is for the case numbers to decrease and the amount of contact tracers to increase.

    “That is how you knock this virus out,” he said.

    Green said the stay-at-home order on Oahu, surge testing in all counties and the response to the spike in the virus has helped bring down active cases.

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