A U.S. judge will not prevent Hawaii from quarantining incoming travelers, and said in a ruling that the emergency mandate was adequate during the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
A group of residents of Hawaii, California and Nevada tried to stop the quarantine by filing a lawsuit alleging that it was unfair and unnecessary. They argued that it was against the fundamental right to travel freely.
The quarantine mandate, which applies to travelers outside the state and residents of Hawaii, does not prevent people from traveling, and the plaintiffs have "decided not to travel to or from Hawaii because they do not want to be quarantined." District judge Jill Otake said in a ruling issued Thursday evening that an application for an injunction was refused.
The decision is a good one for Hawaii, the Attorney General said on Friday: "Our department will continue to wholeheartedly defend the governor's emergency announcement."
The plaintiffs are waiting to learn all the details of Governor David Ige's plans for travelers to bypass the quarantine next month if they do a negative test before they arrive. The test plan is similar to one in Alaska.
"We will wait to see how the government works before formulating our next steps in this lawsuit," said Harmeet Dhillon, a lawyer who represents the people who are challenging the quarantine. "But the litigation will go on."
Hawaii "quarantined to prevent the import and spread of COVID-19 and to avoid overwhelming the health care system that overrides compulsory government interests," said Otake.
Hawaii's health agency announced on Friday that there were 29 newly reported cases, increasing the total number of confirmed cases to 975 since the outbreak began. Health officials reported the state's 19th COVID-19 death on Friday. The number of infections is believed to be far higher since many people have not been tested. Studies have shown that people can become infected with the virus without feeling sick.
Hawaii has been able to keep infection rates low compared to other parts of the U.S. due to emergency restrictions, Attorney General Clare Connors told Otake at a hearing on Thursday.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough that improve in two to three weeks. Some – especially older adults and people with existing health problems – may experience more serious illnesses such as pneumonia and death.
Dhillon said it is unknown whether low rates can be attributed to the quarantine and that the state could previously have taken less restrictive measures.
"Although the right to travel within the United States is constitutionally protected, it does not mean that temporary quarantine cannot be established in certain areas if there is evidence that unlimited travel directly and materially affects the safety and well-being of that area would." Otake said.