PHOTO: The Kona Coast of Hawaii's Big Island. (Photo by Jim Byers)
The Hawaii Tourism Authority is helping to fund flights home for visitors, including those who aren't obeying the state's mandatory 14-day self-quarantine established earlier this month amid the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
According to a press release from Hawaii's Department of Health on Thursday, the agency has provided the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii (VASH) with $25,000 to pay for the return flights. So far, VASH has sent at least 19 people back to their airports of origin, including a pair from San Diego and a Los Angeles woman. "We’ve been helping victims of crime or other adversity they may have experienced in Hawaii for the past 23 years," VASH President and CEO Jessica Lani Rich said in a statement. "During this unprecedented public health crisis, we are supporting the return of individuals who arrive from the mainland, who do not have pre-arranged lodging and may need financial assistance for their return flights."
"The ability to return people quickly to their airports of origin during the coronavirus crisis greatly assists law enforcement's ability to ensure the success of our statewide emergency measures," added Hawaii State Attorney General Clare Connors. "The fact scarce government funds do not need to be expended for these return trips also helps fulfill the mission of keeping Hawaii safe."
To this point, flights have been arranged to at least six different mainland airports and to Guam.
According to the state's Health Department, visitors arrested for violating self-quarantine rules have the option of arranging payment of fines with the courts in lieu of returning to Hawaii for trials.
It's been over a month since Hawaiian officials asked travelers to postpone their travel plans to the islands and nearly three weeks since Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau President John Monahan sent a letter to multiple publications requesting they temporarily stop promoting travel to Hawaii in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent overwhelming of the state's healthcare system.