Hawaii’s Proposed Coronavirus Testing Is Unacceptable (And Legally Questionable)
If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you’ve probably noticed we’ve talked a lot about Hawaii’s efforts to protect itself from coronavirus. This stems from measures requiring a 14-day quarantine to tracking devices to placing people under what is essentially “house arrest” by controlling access to their own hotel room. Now, Hawaii has a new way you can avoid quarantine: submit to coronavirus testing and submit that data to an airline. If not, face the prospect of a long, inconvenient wait at the airport or quarantine. The move is being pushed even more after the Federal Government said the testing policy does not violate any Department of Transportation regulation.
The Plan’s Major Points
The details are included in a plan submitted to the House Select COVID-19 Committee. The plan calls for a number of items, including:
- Passengers will have three options: 1) Coronavirus testing within 72 hours of departure; 2) Test when they arrive in Hawaii and face a long wait; or 3) Mandatory self quarantine for 14 days;
- Get a retest every seven days while visiting Hawaii;
- Submit testing to the airline; and
- All departures require testing.
You can read the plan in its entirety here.
In The Name Of Public Health?
Now, I know there will be people who comment “but public health.” However, the author of this plan kind of gives away the whole premise in the report itself. He says, “Travelers will gladly pay a premium for airfare and accommodations knowing that a rigorous testing system is in place.” I tend to believe this is more about making Hawaii a tourism hotspot to increase revenues and jobs than it is to actually protect people.
Naturally, it is also a policy that is meant to promote public health. I don’t believe the government is doing it with ill intentions. But they deserve to be held accountable for policies that fly in the face of freedom. They also should not get away with pretending that these policies are merely about public health.
If You Don’t Like It, Don’t Go To Hawaii
Many will say, “If you don’t like it, don’t go to Hawaii.” However, the Supreme Court has concluded that Americans largely have freedom of movement within their country. The principle of freedom of movement was affirmed in a 1999 Supreme Court ruling. In that ruling, the Court held that citizens have a right to enter and leave a state and be treated as welcomed visitors. This strikes at that very principle by forcing a false choice between capitalizing on that freedom of movement or facing testing/quarantine.
Of course, balancing public health and individual liberties can sometimes be difficult. But the Supreme Court has set a standard that calls on government’s to take the put into place the least restrictive means available. It is hard to argue that all of these policies are the least restrictive means. In addition, the laws disproportionately impact tourists, placing them at the forefront of the laws and regulations.
Now, I know Hawaii’s economy is hurting during this difficult time. It’s a state very much dependent on people’s tourism for revenue and jobs. For that reason, it makes it easy to make the case that we should just allow Hawaii to do what it wants to help its economy. But there’s a balance that needs to be walked here, and I think Hawaii largely surpasses the scale against freedom. I feel terrible that Hawaii is suffering. But so are many other parts of America.
In reality, Americans would not take kindly to similar policies implemented by states in the continental U.S. Only only needs to look at NY Governor Andrew Cuomo’s challenge to Rhode Island and Florida for limiting travel by New Yorkers. There was an instantaneous threat of lawsuit and outrage from the state of New York. We should not treat Hawaii as a special case, even if they are an island disconnected from the continent.
The Balance Of Public Health And Freedom
I am not a denier of coronavirus or the danger it poses to people, economies, and our way of life. Our blog has defended the airlines implementing policies requiring face masks for passengers. We also condemned somebody who openly flaunted Hawaii’s quarantine rules for no apparent reason other than because he wanted to do so.
Personally, I’ve followed adherence strictly to my local and state government’s quarantine procedures. I have largely not even gone to stores when given the opportunity to do grocery delivery. I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of fighting this virus and protecting lives.
But I ultimately in a believer that times of turmoil and tragedy also need to remind us about the importance of freedom. Our Constitution still matters, even during times of difficulty. After 9/11, the government took away liberties in the name of freedom. Looking back, many people acknowledge we didn’t handle ourselves the way we should have. My hope is that we don’t repeat those mistakes and place public health at the forefront of everything, even when it violates freedoms and liberties.
Hawaii’s politicians outlined a plan to require coronavirus testing for island arrivals. Leaders say it’s all in the name of public health, but there is also a tourism component to it. Leaders want to sell the state as a safe zone from coronavirus. I hope we consider these issues and take them seriously. We tend to over respond during periods of crisis, and we regret it later. Let’s not repeat the mistake of 9/11 and aim to change our entire way of life in the name of security.