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Airport screener: ‘You can kind of tell’ who plans to skirt rules

Quarantine breakers offer telltale signs right off the airplane

Passengers on an Alaska Airlines flight arriving from Seattle are screened Wednesday at Kahului Airport. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Some of the names and faces posted by police and published in the newspaper look familiar to Kahului Airport screeners. They say some quarantine breakers started showing their true colors fresh off the plane.

Whether it was the person who tried passing off the Lahaina Post Office address as his booked lodgings or the ones who make a fuss in line and try to refuse to provide contact information, many of the breakers show their disdain for the rules early.

“You can kind of tell,” said Kahului Airport Business Systems Supervisor Denise Texeira. “We have people come for five days. We ask, ‘Do you know you have to quarantine?’ They say, ‘Yes I know.’ That kind of shows a red flag.”

Texeira is part of a state team supervising the screening checkpoint for trans-Pacific travelers. Maui County staffers supervise the checkpoint for interisland arrivals. Most screening is done by contract workers from Roberts Hawaii.

Airport security personnel and officers from the Maui Police Department are stationed at the checkpoints, ready to back up screeners or intervene when passengers get testy. Officials say, on average, two passengers a day are denied entry to the island.

Roberts Hawaii contract screener Pua Moniz (left) talks with arriving passenger Tupou Puteni of Lahaina on Wednesday afternoon. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Maui police reported this week that 14 individuals have been arrested in the past two months for breaking quarantine orders. Passengers are required to initial and sign an Order For Self Quarantine form that plainly lays down the rules for Hawaii’s mandatory 14-day quarantine. The form finishes with a bold warning that failure to comply with the rules is a crime punishable by up to a $5,000 fine or a year in jail.

Passengers also must complete a form that includes contact information, Maui lodgings, answers to health questions, recent travel history and profession. Passengers give the screener their cellphone number, which is then dialed to be confirmed before they are cleared.

“It was pretty easy, a lot of paperwork, but it was easy,” said Kihei’s Alicia Cotter after she and her daughter arrived Wednesday from Spokane, Wash., by way of Oahu. Cotter said they were not looking forward to the quarantine.

Maui Airports District Manager Marvin Moniz said some of the people who are turned around arrived planning to camp at the beach or to see if there was room in a shelter. Others have reservations at bed and breakfasts or other places where it is illegal for them to quarantine.

“Now you’ve got to either book a hotel or go back,” Moniz said. “You cannot rent a car, you must have a room and order room service.”

A screener dials a passenger’s cellphone Wednesday to confirm the visitor provided a working number with contact information. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

He suggests travelers not only check the Maui County website for its list of approved accommodations but also call to confirm.

“I recommend getting cleared and approved with the County of Maui,” Moniz said.

Those who flaunt quarantine rules will be caught, he added.

“We sent numerous people back for giving us bad information,” Moniz said. “We send MPD out, and they track them down. The message is don’t circumvent the rules. We have enough information, we’ll track you down.”

Maui Police Department Lt. Audra Sellers says the public has largely been supportive of efforts to enforce the quarantine and other pandemic-related rules.

“Everybody on Maui is amazing,” Sellers said. “We’ve pulled together to do what’s right, to slow the spread.”

And then quarantine breakers threaten to torpedo all that hard work and sacrifice.

“We don’t want to cite people,” Sellers said. “We’ve been doing our best to educate people. No one can say they weren’t told.”

Sellers credited the many agencies and personnel who are shouldering new or extra duties while responding to the pandemic. “It’s definitely been a group effort,” she said.

She said people just need to stay focused on doing what is right to keep the curve flat.

“You may be over COVID, but COVID’s not over us,” Sellers said. “We wish it was, but it’s not.”

* Matthew Thayer can be reached at thayer@maui.net.

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