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Primarily virus-free Kauai hit by pandemic after journey resumes

HONOLULU (AP) – On the agricultural island of Kauai, Hawaii, the place expansive white sand seashores and dramatic seaside mountains draw guests from all over the world, native residents have spent the primary seven months of the pandemic secure from the viral storm.

Early and aggressive native measures, coupled with a strictly enforced statewide journey quarantine, saved Kauai’s 72,000 residents wholesome – the island had simply 61 recognized circumstances of the coronavirus from March by means of September. However on Oct. 15, the state launched a pre-trip testing program to revive Hawaii’s decimated tourism economic system.

Kauai went from no an infection to at the least 84 new circumstances in seven weeks. The rise in energy has sowed transmission locally and led to the island’s first dying – and thus far solely – from COVID-19: Ron Clark, who has labored for many years as a tour driver.

Regardless of Hawaii’s cautious reopening effort that allowed vacationers who examined destructive for COVID-19 earlier than touring to the state to bypass quarantine guidelines, the height in Kauai illustrates the problem of preserving public well being – even on a distant island – when the financial restoration depends on journey. Kauai officers have determined that the price of vacationing in paradise, in the mean time, is simply too excessive.

Clark had COVID-19 in November and died about 10 days later. At 84, he labored till he contracted the illness and extra just lately he commuted between airline pilots and airport crews. Airline crews are exempt from state testing and quarantine guidelines.

The day after Clark died, officers in Kauai mentioned they might withdraw from the state’s testing program and demand that guests be quarantined once more for 2 weeks, whether or not or not they examined destructive. to COVID-19 earlier than arriving.

Kauai officers say the distinctive testing program has not finished sufficient to guard the individuals who dwell there. With simply 9 intensive care beds and 14 ventilators, the island’s well being system might shortly be overwhelmed by a significant epidemic, Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami mentioned.

Searching for to keep away from such a state of affairs, Kawakami proposed a compulsory second take a look at for all passengers arriving after arrival. His plan reportedly included a brief quarantine whereas individuals waited for his or her second outcome.

“We consider {that a} destructive take a look at is an efficient prerequisite for getting on a aircraft,” Kawakami mentioned. However “when you land on Kauai … (vacationers) ought to be capable of sit down and funky off for 3 days.”

However the proposal was rejected by state officers, with Democratic Gov. David Ige saying the plan needs to be funded and administered domestically.

After the Kauai outbreak, the State Division of Well being traced a lot of the October and November circumstances on the island to residents and returning vacationers who launched the virus regardless of the pre-flight testing program.

JoAnn Yukimura, former mayor of Kauai and good friend of Ron Clark for greater than three a long time, mentioned his dying shook the group and he or she continuously thought “of him being alone within the hospital.” … How lonely it will need to have been to die.

“Ron’s dying could look like such a small matter to strangers,” Yukimura mentioned. However it “hit us laborious as a result of we in Kauai have not gotten used to dying and illness – and we by no means need to come to this.”

Earlier than the pandemic, Hawaii was house to about 30,000 vacationers every day who spent practically $ 18 billion final 12 months.

In March, when the state’s two-week quarantine rule was imposed, vacationer arrivals and incomes plummeted. The variety of guests has since elevated with the screening program, however solely to achieve a few third of pre-pandemic ranges.

In Kauai, Edwin Pascua, 57, has been unemployed since March and fears having contact with contaminated vacationers – however prefers to work.

“If there are ensures in place, that might undermine every thing,” he mentioned. “I would not be so scared.”

Pascua and his spouse, who works in the identical lodge, have made do with unemployment advantages however he is aware of individuals who “have not even acquired a verify, an unemployment verify”.

Regardless of the brand new outbreak of an infection and the file death within the Americas, prime Hawaii officers insist the pre-trip testing program is working.

“The proof is within the pudding,” Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Inexperienced mentioned. “Hawaii has the bottom COVID price within the nation because of this program proper now.”

Hawaii enjoys comparatively low hospitalization and dying charges, however well being specialists have mentioned that due to the best way COVID-19 builds up within the physique over time, second assessments for vacationers would remove extra an infection.

Dr Kapono Chong-Hanssen, an indigenous Hawaiian physician who runs a group well being heart in Kauai, mentioned the one-time take a look at requirement “goes towards the medical proof.”

“We’re beginning to see these massive gaps within the plan and I feel it is a matter of time earlier than it pays the value,” he mentioned.

There have been greater than 380 travel-related infections in Hawaii for the reason that screening program started, based on the state well being division.

The precise variety of infections within the basic inhabitants is believed to be a lot 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 College of Public Well being at Brown College, mentioned journey restrictions for many locations at this stage of the pandemic are “counterproductive or comparatively pointless” and will give rise to a false sense of safety.

“International journey bans have been confirmed to assist gradual issues down,” Jha mentioned. However “until you utterly seal your nation and do it early on, it is fairly laborious to make use of that as a method.”

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 had been open, and locals spent their cash locally. This might occur once more with Kauai’s reinstatement of the quarantine rule as locals hope the group stays wholesome.

The journey “introduces a gradual stream of recent infections,” mentioned Dr Janet Berreman, head of Kauai on the state’s well being division.

“This tsunami, if you’ll, of illness,” she mentioned, “crossed the continent from east to west. We’re just a bit additional west throughout a physique of water. However everybody desires to come back right here for the vacations. “

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Related Press author David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.

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