Hawaii Gov. David Ige urges tourists to stay home amid COVID surge: 'Now is not the time to visit the islands'

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Hawaii Gov. David Ige is urging tourists not to visit the popular destination through October due to a surge in COVID cases that has the state's hospitals at capacity.

"It's not a good time to travel to the islands,'' he said at a news conference Monday.

Monday's announcement does not mean travelers cannot visit Hawaii, as the state did not tighten its entry requirements. Since October, travelers have been able to visit by presenting a negative COVID test to bypass the state's strict quarantine. In July, the testing requirement went away for vaccinated travelers.

There has been speculation the testing requirement would return due to the spike in COVID cases from the delta variant but Ige said that is difficult to do since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says domestic travel is safe for vaccinated travelers.

Ige said he has talked with airlines, hotels and other tourism businesses about spreading a message that this is not the time to visit Hawaii except for essential business. He said he asked them to "do what they could'' to curtail tourism.

"I think it's important that we reduce the number of visitors coming here to the islands,'' he said in a separate interview Monday with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. "Certainly, I expect cooperation from the visitor industry.''

Asked about the governor's request to limit visitors, Hawaiian Airlines spokesperson Alex Da Silva released a statement late Monday.

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"We are acutely aware of the stress on our health care system imposed by new COVID-19 cases, and our hearts go out to those affected,'' he said. "We continue to believe that the single most valuable measure to address this crisis is increasing the vaccination rate in our community, which is why we have announced our intent to require our employees to be vaccinated."

Da Silva added: "The Safe Travels program, which is unprecedented in the nation, requires travelers to be vaccinated or tested to avoid quarantine and has been effective in managing the number of travel-related cases.''

The Hawaii Tourism Authority, the state agency in charge of promoting tourism, said visitor counts normally fall as summer vacation season ends but still encouraged travelers to delay any plans to visit Hawaii this fall.

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"Our community, residents and the visitor industry are responsible for working together to address this crisis,'' John De Fries, the agency's president and CEO said in a statement. "As such, we are strongly advising visitors that now is the not the right time to travel, and they should postpone their trips through the end of October.''

Ige acknowledged that some small tourism businesses are still struggling to recover from the pandemic and that telling visitors to stay home won't help the tourism industry rebound. Hawaii effectively banned traditional vacations for months in 2020 by requiring a strict 14-day quarantine, sending visitor numbers plummeting, but visitation has come roaring back this summer.

Ige said during the news conference that now isn't a good time to visit Hawaii anyway due to persistent travel problems this summer, including a lack of rental cars and hard-to-get restaurant reservations.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hawaii governor urges tourists to stay home due to COVID surge