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Mostly virus-free Kauai hit by pandemic after travel resumes

On Hawaii’s rural island of Kauai, the place sprawling white sand seashores and dramatic seaside mountains entice guests from all over the world, 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 travel quarantine stored Kauai’s 72,000 residents principally wholesome — the island had solely 61 identified coronavirus circumstances from March by way of September. But on October 15, the state launched a pre-travel testing program to reignite Hawaii’s decimated tourism economic system.

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

Despite Hawaii’s cautious effort at reopening that allowed travellers who examined damaging 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 travel. Kauai officers have determined the price of vacationing in paradise, for now, is just 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 just lately 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 loss of life, Kauai officers mentioned they might decide out of the state’s testing program and require guests to once more quarantine for 2 weeks whether or not or not they check damaging 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 shortly grow to be overwhelmed by a big outbreak, mentioned Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami.

Seeking to stop 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 end result.

“We think having a negative test is a good prerequisite to getting on a plane,” Kawakami mentioned. But “once you land on Kauai … (travellers) should be able to sit and cool off for three days.”

But 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 Department of Health traced many of the island’s October and November circumstances to returning residents and vacationers who introduced the virus in regardless of the pre-flight testing program.

JoAnn Yukimura, a former Kauai mayor and buddy of Ron Clark’s for greater than three a long time, mentioned his loss of life shook the group and that she continuously thinks “of him being alone at the hospital. … How lonely it must have been to die.”

“Ron’s death might seem to outsiders like such a small matter,” Yukimura mentioned. But it “hit us hard because we on Kauai haven’t become inured to death and sickness — and we don’t ever want to get that way.”

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

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

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

“If there are safeguards in place, that would lessen everything,” he mentioned. “I wouldn’t be as afraid.”

Pascua and his spouse, who works on the identical lodge, have gotten by with unemployment advantages however he is aware of individuals who “haven’t even gotten a check yet, one check from unemployment.”

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

“The proof is in the pudding,” Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green mentioned. “Hawaii has the lowest rate of Covid in the country because of this program right now.”

Hawaii enjoys comparatively low hospitalization and loss of life charges, however well being consultants 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 group well being middle, mentioned the one check requirement “goes against the medical evidence.”

“We’re starting to see these big holes in the plan and I think it’s a matter of time before we pay the price,” he mentioned.

There have been greater than 380 travel-related infections in Hawaii because the testing program was launched, in line with 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 University, mentioned travel restrictions for many locations at this level within the pandemic are “either counter-productive or relatively useless” and may give a false sense of safety.

“There is evidence that international travel bans are helpful at slowing things down,” Jha mentioned. But “unless you seal your country off completely and do it early, it’s pretty tough to use that as a strategy.”

Kauai, remoted by the ocean and largely protected by early restrictions, had finished 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 group will stay wholesome.

Travel “introduces a continuous stream of new infections,” mentioned Dr. Janet Berreman, Kauai’s officer for the state well being division.

“This tsunami, if you will, of disease,” she mentioned, “has marched across the mainland, from east to west. We’re just a little farther west across a body of water. But everybody wants to come here for the holidays.”

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

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