Imagine being isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean during a pandemic. On the one hand, there is safety in being separated by physical distance as the virus rages on the mainland. On the other hand, you’ve just watched your entire livelihood, tourism, disappear in a matter of days. Welcome to the reality of living in Hawaii during Covid-19.
For residents, the return of tourists to Hawaii is terrifying. It’s also necessary. This past year of staying at home and an island with nearly no visitors have helped keep our cases extremely low. Our low numbers, along with empty beaches and empty hotel rooms, now seem to be a lure for visitors. But please remember our empty hotels come at a cost. Unemployment in Hawaii is the highest in the country. Read that again. In the country. Not all businesses have made it. We need tourists to survive. But many are scared they will get us sick. It’s an impossible scenario.
If you are going to visit Hawaii right now, I’ve put together some advice from a local. Above all, be respectful. Hawaii is not your private resort. Hawaii is also NOT Covid free. But if visitors mask up, maintain a safe distance, respect the locals and understand our fear, maybe tourism here can safely resume even amidst a pandemic.
Respect the Residents. Respect the Island.
Some quick context: Hawaii has limited medical resources. Kauai has nine ICU beds, Maui has 29, and Hawaii Island has 24. So you can’t blame us for cautiously watching visitors. The simplest way to be respectful? Wear a mask. Seriously, wear the damn mask.
Officially, Hawaii has a state mask mandate. That means you have to wear a face mask covering your nose and mouth whenever you are out in public.
Unofficially, proper Hawaii mask etiquette is like using your car’s high beams at night. If you’re outside and no one (and I mean no one) is around – it’s probably okay to pull your mask down. But as soon as you see someone in your line of sight, mask up. Plan to wear a mask when walking from your car to the sand. Again, if no one is around, probably safe to take the mask off, see other people? Mask up, please.
Follow the Safe Travels Program Guidelines
You don’t have to quarantine upon arrival if you follow the safe travels program guidelines. The program is relatively straightforward, but you can’t miss a single step. Mess up, and you’ve got yourself a 10-day quarantine. You don’t want to watch the beach from your hotel room, so be sure to follow the steps carefully.
Here’s a quick breakdown.
Get tested from an approved testing location 72 hours before the last leg of your flight—list of approved testing sites.
Create an account and then upload your test results to the Safe Travel website.
24-hours before your flight, complete the health questionnaire. You will then get a QR code.
Have all of your documents printed AND electronically available at all times. It would be best if you had easily accessible your QR code, a copy of your test results with your full name, and the date the test was taken, and proof of your accommodations with you at all times while traveling. Anything you can print, print it. Have it ready so you aren’t scrambling at the airport checkpoints.
You can find more detailed information about the Safe Travels Program can be found here: https://hawaiicovid19.com/travel/travel-overview/
Pick Just One Island to Visit
Gone are the days of island hopping with ease while in Hawaii. Currently, each island is managing its inter-island test requirements and quarantine process, so trying to island-hop can get confusing. And pricey for extra testing. Right now, it’s best to stick to one island.
Staying on one island will also help prevent and stop the spread. It’s just common pandemic sense to minimize additional unnecessary travel if you can.
Don’t Expect Everything to Be Open.
Many businesses didn’t survive the pandemic. Don’t be surprised if a highly recommended restaurant from your friends who visited Hawaii in “the before times” is now closed for good. Try not to get upset if a store now has limited hours. We’re all trying to survive as best we can. The casualties of the pandemic have touched every corner of every island. Be flexible. Be kind.
Other visitor hot spots like National Parks and hiking trails may now have different hours and restrictions on how many can visit at one time. Call ahead and see what Covid accommodations they have in place, and again, be flexible. If you have a sour attitude about things being closed, you’re going to have a bad time.
Support Small Businesses
Please buy local whenever possible! I know Walmart may have the best deals on trinkets and keepsakes, but the mom-and-pop shop needs you to survive. Walmart does not.
Eat local. Again, I’m sure you love your tried and true Macaroni Grill or McD’s breakfast sandwich – but why not give places like Foster’s Kitchen, L&L Drive-In, Sansei or Kuleana Rum Shack a chance while you’re visiting? You’re here in Hawaii. You might as well try the local food and flavors!
In short, be respectful. That’s all we ask.
On the surface, Hawaii looks like the perfect place for remote-work or escaping your local stay-at-home orders for some sunshine. While that may be true, be ever mindful while you’re here that this is a real place with real people living our authentic lives. Please respect that we have been just as scared as you’ve been. We want to stay healthy just as much as you do.
I know wearing a mask as you walk down to the beach may feel like a pain, but in the grand scheme of things – it is the very least you can do. Tread lightly
and be kind to residents. We are still weathering this storm. You’re on vacation, but many of us are just trying to survive another day in this pandemic that just will not quit. We are happy you’re here to help our economy, but many of us are still trying to come up for air.
To Mālama means ‘to take care of, serve and honor, protect and watch over. Once you are here, we ask you to please Malama Hawaii. Care for the islands like they are your home.