If you flew into Honolulu International Airport anytime after the start of the pandemic, you would have had a different experience from most Americans who have traveled elsewhere this year. In the days following your arrival, you would not be wading into the azure waters of Waikiki Beach. You would not be climbing the soaring crest of Diamond Head to gaze upon the Pacific Ocean. A noble sea turtle might be floating in the bay, ready to swim alongside you, but you would not be able to join him. You would be in your hotel room, where you would be ordered to stay for the next 14 days for the state’s mandatory coronavirus quarantine.
And Hawaii does mean stay. At one point, hotels issued visitors single-entry key cards.
In mid-October, the state announced that it would allow tourists to bypass its mandatory two-week quarantine by showing a recent, negative COVID-19 test upon arrival. But before then, people who emerged from six-hour flights from LAX would find themselves imprisoned in paradise. Some of them broke quarantine, and more than 200 were arrested. In April, the Hawaii attorney general’s special agents arrested a man while he was loading groceries from Costco into his car. They busted honeymooners in May after the pair went out to buy pizza. On the Big Island, police swept up 21 members of a “family with a leader” in June. In August, authorities charged a 69-year-old man who refused to sign the quarantine paperwork at the airport. In October, special agents arrested a couple for breaking their quarantine for the second time in two days, after their hotel snitched on them. All of the arrested tourists faced the prospect of a one-year jail sentence—which no one has served yet—or a $5,000 fine.