Mostly virus-free Kauai hit by pandemic after Hawaii travel resumes

HONOLULU (AP) — On Hawaii’s rural island of Kauai, where sprawling white sand beaches and dramatic seaside mountains attract visitors from around the world, local residents spent the first seven months of the pandemic sheltered from the viral storm.

Early and aggressive local measures coupled with a strictly enforced statewide travel quarantine kept Kauai’s 72,000 residents mostly healthy — the island had only 61 known coronavirus cases from March through September. But on Oct. 15, the state launched a pre-travel testing program to reignite Hawaii’s decimated tourism economy.

Kauai then went from having no active infections at all in the first part of October to at least 84 new cases in the ensuing seven weeks. The surge seeded community transmission and led to the island’s first — and so far only — COVID-19 death: Ron Clark, who worked for decades as a tour driver.

Despite Hawaii’s cautious effort at reopening that allowed travelers who tested negative for COVID-19 before they flew to the state to sidestep quarantine rules, the Kauai spike illustrates the difficulty of preserving public health — even on an isolated island — when economic recovery relies on travel. Kauai officials have decided the cost of vacationing in paradise, for now, is too high.

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