Unemployment in Hawaii has skyrocketed from three per cent to 34 per cent as tourism vanishes from the island – and it could get worse as lockdown measures to protect against coronavirus continue.
Since March the number of people flying into Hawaii has fallen dramatically from 30,000-a-day to just 756.
And businesses have started to see the effects of the drop in tourism, with thousands of workers losing their livelihoods, relying on savings and desperately applying for an oversubscribed unemployment benefit.
Some 216,000 of the island’s 660,000 workers were employed in jobs supported by tourism in 2019, reported USA Today.
Since March the number of people flying into Hawaii has fallen dramatically from 30,000-a-day to just 756. Pictured, a woman walking on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu
Food service workers made up 13 per cent of all employees, but many have been struck off by employers whose profits have fallen away.
More than 225,000 people are now unemployed on the island state.
There are currently 629 coronavirus cases in Hawaii and 17 people have died of the disease since the pandemic began in March, out of a population of 1.4 million.
Honolulu City Councilmember Kymberly Pine said she and other lawmakers had been worried about the economy’s overdependence on tourism for years.
‘It really showed how unprepared our state was for this kind of crisis,’ she told the newspaper. ‘We are going to need to prepare for a lot of people losing their homes, not being able to pay their rentals.’
The state’s economy won’t bounce back until at least 2021, according to data from the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.
This means uncertainty for those who have lost their jobs, as they try to make savings stretch with no money coming in each month.
Honolulu City Councilmember Kymberly Pine said she and other lawmakers had been worried about the economy’s overdependence on tourism for years. Pictured, Waikiki beach, Honolulu
Consumer goods and services on the island are 18 per cent more expensive than across the rest of the US, meaning most workers used to live paycheck to paycheck, says the organization’s executive director Carl Bonham.
And the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations faced a barrage of 226,883 claims for unemployment benefit when coronavirus first hit the economy on March 1.
Since then only 104,555 have been paid, with thousands still waiting for money.
The department took on 531 volunteers and based itself in the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu. It will soon start directing people to make a claim for the benefit on certain days according to the first letter of their surname.
The state has even paid for tourists to go home. On April 23, the state announced that with $25,000 in funding from the Hawaii Tourism Authority the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii (VASH) paid to send 19 people back to their airports of origin
Anyone with a second name beginning with the letters A through to G will be able to claim it on Mondays.
Meanwhile, The Salvation Army handed out 24,000 meals over a six-day period at the height of the lockdown.
In a normal month the charity gives 2,500 meals, according to Victor Leonardi.
And Lisa Maruyama, president and CEO of the Hawaii Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations, has described the lockdown as ‘a perfect storm’.
She revealed most non-profits don’t have enough funding for the next three months and some are having to sack employees.
Since March 26, when Hawaii put the rules in place, about 5,000 visitors have arrived.
That’s left the state reeling – tourism industry officials say the hotel occupancy rate was down about 34 per cent compared to March last year.
More than 100 hotels have suspended operations and workers laid off from their jobs wait in long lines at food distribution sites.
With more than 2,000 miles of ocean separating it from the rest of the world, Hawaii has an advantage over other remote states with low rates of infection and death.
Hawaii now has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates. The restrictions have come at the expense of more than 225,000 residents who are now unemployed. Residents are seen lined up to get food from the Salvation Army
Unlike Alaska, Montana and Wyoming, there’s no driving or taking a train to the islands, so fewer people will be arriving and spreading the disease as businesses begin to reopen.
But the travel restrictions have walloped their economy, and they will be among the last to end, officials say. Hawaii now has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates.
It comes as authorities in Hawaii are cracking down on tourists flouting lockdown rules by arresting visitors on beaches, riding jet skis and out shopping.
A newlywed California couple who left their Waikiki hotel room repeatedly, despite being warned by hotel staff, were arrested last week, officials said.
It comes as authorities in Hawaii are cracking down on tourists flouting lockdown rules by arresting visitors on beaches, riding jet skis and out shopping. Pictured, Anne Rush, 27, was arrested after leaving her hotel to go shopping
Mitchell Lawrence Shier of Miami was charged with violation of the 14-day quarantine rule and unsworn falsification to authorities
Others have been arrested at a hotel pool, shopping at Costco after being spotted jet-skiing and bringing take-out food back to a hotel room.
At least 20 people have been arrested statewide on charges of violating the quarantine, and many others have received warnings or citations. Anyone convicted of violating the emergency rule faces a fine of up to $5,000, a year in jail, or both.
The rules, the strictest in any US state, require people to quarantine for 14 days after arriving. It has helped keep infections relatively low.
Honolulu City Councilmember Ms Pine wants travelers tracked via their cellphones or tested for the virus before boarding planes for Hawaii.
Yuliia Andreichenko (left) and Borice Lepovskiy (right) were on their honeymoon when they were arrested accused of flouting lockdown rules in Hawaii
‘The people that are coming don´t care about us. They´re coming to Hawaii on the cheap and they obviously could care less whether they get the virus or not,’ she said.
‘So they obviously could care less about that mom and dad who have no job and no food.’
While in quarantine in a hotel room or residence, people are not allowed to leave for anything other than medical emergencies. That means no grocery shopping, no strolls on the beach, no hotel housekeeping services.
Leif Anthony Johansen, 60, of Truckee, Calif., was spotted jet-skiing off Oahu’s famed North Shore, police say. He was later followed to a Costco, where agents from the state attorney general’s office arrested him as he was loading groceries
When the honeymooning couple, Borice Lepovskiy, 20, and Yuliia Andreichenko, 26, of Citrus Heights, California, arrived at their hotel last week, a front desk manager read them the quarantine order, but they claimed airport staff told them it would be OK to visit friends and go to beaches. They left the hotel, police say.
According to the state, they returned after midnight with a pizza, checked in and refused to sign a quarantine agreement.
In the morning, they left their room and were arrested when they returned.
Anne Elizabeth Rush, 27, of Illinois and 25-year-old Mitchell Lawrence Shier of Miami were first contacted by Honolulu Police Tuesday, the same day they checked into a Waikiki hotel.
Desiree Marvin, 31, of Alexandria, Va., Adam Schwarze, 36. Last month, the pair arrived on Kauai and were told to go directly to their hotel. Kauai police stopped them after they were seen going in the opposite direction
Police were called by hotel staff after they saw the couple returning to their room with shopping bags and take-out food in violation of the rules.
By Wednesday morning, special agents from the Dept. of the Attorney General’s Investigations Division went to the hotel and arrested Shier and Rush. They have been charged with violation of the 14-day quarantine rule and unsworn falsification to authorities.
Officials have even considered having travelers wear an ankle bracelet during their quarantine period, or setting up a designated site where tourists would be required to stay at for the 14 days.
Hawaii, which is heavily dependent on tourism, has among the lowest COVID-19 infection and mortality rates in the US. Hawaii has a little over 600 confirmed cases with 17 deaths
When travelers arrive, officials verify their accommodation arrangements by contacting hotels directly and giving them a heads up that a visitor has arrived, the state said.
Call center workers from the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau and the Hawaii Tourism Authority follow-up numerous time to verify travelers are in quarantine. When call center workers can´t contact someone, they alert law enforcement.
Last month, a pair arrived on Kauai and were told to go directly to their hotel. Kauai police stopped them after they were seen going in the opposite direction of their hotel.
Adam Schwarze, 36, who police said lives on Oahu and his travel companion, Desiree Marvin, 31, of Alexandria, Virginia, were ultimately arrested in the parking lot of a grocery store.
Police say Leif Anthony Johansen, 60, of Truckee, California, was supposed to be in quarantine but was spotted on a jet ski off Oahu´s famed North Shore.
Travel restrictions have walloped the state’s economy, and they will be among the last to end, officials say
He was later followed to a Costco, where agents from the state attorney general´s office arrested him as he was loading groceries into his vehicle.
Johansen, Lepovskiy and Andreichenko could not immediately be reached for comment. Schwarze and Marvin declined to comment.
‘I am, quite frankly, quite surprised that people would still want to come because this is not the Hawaii that you’ve dreamed about, that you want to experience,’ said Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association.
‘There’s a lot of attractions that are closed. Everyone is walking around with masks.
‘You know, we’re just not going to demonstrate that spirit of aloha that you’ve heard so much about. … So to me, it´s just crazy for someone to still want to come here.’
Of the few places in the world with no confirmed COVID-19 infections, nearly all are islands in the Pacific.
American Samoa, a US territory west of Hawaii, is the nation’s only jurisdiction with no cases to date.
Officials have asked Hawaiian Airlines to halt daily flights from Honolulu to try to stay virus-free, and travelers must quarantine for two weeks.
Every other US state and territory, including the islands of Guam and Puerto Rico, have the virus. Once there, it’s hard to contain, especially if visitors keep arriving.
Hawaii became the first state to require travelers to quarantine, and others have followed.
VASH also paid for a pair from San Diego after they’d been arrested for violating quarantine.
One woman was sent back to Los Angeles after posting her outdoor activities on social media.
Those who do arrive in the state must give Hawaii airport officials an address they will go for quarantine, which is verified, and their cellphone number.
If the number doesn’t ring in front of an agent, the visitor is turned over to police. National Guard troops also check people for fevers and other signs of illness at airports.
Despite the restrictions in the state, there have been some clusters of the virus, including at a Maui hospital and a fast food restaurant on the Big Island.
Average daily arrivals for this time of year plummeted from about 30,000 people a day to a just few hundred. Most are returning residents (a man pictured at the international airport in Honolulu)
Average daily arrivals for this time of year plummeted from about 30,000 people a day to a just few hundred. Most are returning residents.
Mary Ann Jenkins left Honolulu to see family in Indiana in early April and was prepared to quarantine for two weeks when she flew home last week. She said she faced no such restrictions on the mainland.
‘There was really no problem going into Indiana,’ Jenkins said. ‘When I left … it was more of a secure thing than when I got there.’
She agrees with Ige’s order to limit visitors.
‘On the mainland, you can go from one state to the next and you’re just still driving down the road so you never know who, what or where you’re coming in contact with,’ Jenkins said.
A woman walks across alone a normally busy after arriving at Honolulu’s international airport
Hawaii resident Mary Ann Jenkins waits for her ride after arriving home from Indiana at the international airport in Honolulu
Hawaii is also expanded testing to close contacts of infected people, said Lt Gov Josh Green, a practicing emergency room doctor. Officials are now developing ways to slowly restart the tourism economy.
Green is recommending that for the next year, or until the virus is no longer a major threat, travelers should be tested 72 hours before arriving.
And he said partnering with places like New Zealand and Australia, which also have low infection rates, could slowly rebuild tourism with countries known to be safe.
Bartender Jason Maxwell, who works at two Honolulu hotels, is trying to apply for unemployment benefits through the overloaded state system and using vacation and sick time in the meantime. Once that’s out, he’s not sure what’s ahead.
‘It’s not going to get any easier. And I don’t anticipate this thing ending anytime soon. So the stress of the unknown is kind of the biggest thing that´s happening right now,’ Maxwell said.
The governor says he’s extending unemployment benefits to more workers and allowing businesses like real estate agencies, car dealerships and golf courses to reopen.
But the quarantine rules for travelers will last at least through May.
‘We are flattening the curve,’ Ige said. ‘However, my greatest fear is that if we move too quickly to reopen, we will see a sudden surge in new cases that would result in overrunning our health care system and more deaths.’