Michele Liedtke has been prepping since February for her first vacation in two years, when she and her best friend from eighth grade booked a Maui vacation package.
Liedtke, a veterans’ home nurse, bought new luggage, swimsuits, outfits and gear for a boat trip she booked to Molokini, the crescent-shaped crater popular with snorkelers.
She also joined a Maui Facebook group for COVID-19 travel tips, and even changed the background on her phone to a photo of tropical fish.
On Wednesday, she left the group and swapped out the aquatic photo.
The weeklong Hawaii trip, due to begin the day after Labor Day, is off. Liedtke canceled the vacation two days after Hawaii Gov. David Ige issued a plea for tourists to avoid travel to the state through October due to a surge in COVID-19 cases straining the state’s already limited hospital capacity. She was able to cancel her Costco vacation package but was charged a $400 cancellation fee.
“I can’t even look at look at pictures of Hawaii right now,” she said. “I can’t even think about it.”
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Liedtke, who is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, said she felt “morally obligated” to cancel the vacation. But she also feared hostility from residents if she and her friend were to visit now.
As a nurse in a facility with a surge in COVID-19 cases, she’s no stranger to how to protect against COVID.
“I take care of COVID people all the time,” she said. “I teach people how to use PPE correctly. There’s no way I’m taking COVID to that island. ‘But there’s no way that they’re going to know that by looking at me.”
Hawaii ticket holders are being confronted with travel calculus in the wake of the governor’s request and a proposal by Maui Mayor Michael Victorino that tourists who do come voluntarily limit their activities to their resort.
Hawaii governor announcement: What it means for tourists
The math is complicated by several factors: Hawaii has not changed its already strict entry requirements and is not banning tourists or shutting down as it did earlier in the pandemic; the strict refund policies of airlines, hotels, vacation rentals, car rentals and activities, especially for last-minute cancellations; and views on COVID-19 risks and the governor’s previous statements that most cases are tied to residents not visitors.
USA TODAY interviewed several travelers about their Hawaii plans. Some rushed to cancel trips, including babymoons, weddings and long-awaited vacations. Others plan to go unless the state implements a formal shutdown or severe restrictions like closed beaches or resort bubbles. Others still remain frustratingly on the fence.
Boston couple going ahead with Hawaii plans: ‘We’re not going to lose the money we invested in it’
Leslie Reitz and her boyfriend have tickets to fly from Boston to Maui on Thursday, a vacation they booked in May. The 20-somethings prefer international travel, but opted for Hawaii this year because Europe’s reopening was in flux, and Hawaii offers a mix of relaxation and adventure.
When she read about the governor’s announcement this week, Reitz contacted the three vacation rentals on Maui she booked via Airbnb and Vrbo to ask about a refund.
“One didn’t respond and the other two said no,” she said.
So their Hawaii trip is on.
“We have these plans and would happily cancel if we could receive any form of a refund, but we can’t,” she said, adding that they don’t want to postpone the trip to later this year or a year from now.
Reitz, who is fully vaccinated and also had COVID-19 last year, said she and her boyfriend have already been called selfish by some people who knew about her vacation plans.
This despite strict COVID-19 precautions they began on Aug. 1 ahead of the trip and weeks before the governor urged travelers to postpone trips. They stopped going to bars and eating inside restaurants. They also have appointments to get tested before the trip, even though that is no longer required for vaccinated visitors.
“We feel like we’ve gone up and beyond to be as cautious as possible,” she said.
“I don’t feel comfortable, and I know I can’t enjoy it to the fullest (due to COVID-19 restrictions) but also we’re not going to lose the money we invested in it.”
Washington family postpones ‘much needed’ Hawaii trip to May 2022
Heatherlee Clark canceled her family’s planned October trip to Hawaii on Wednesday.
Her husband is a critical care doctor exhausted by COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated people in Bellingham, Washington, as the delta variant spreads, and the couple were already debating not going.
The governor’s plea cinched their decision.
“We respect the governor’s plea and the islands of Hawaii and the people that live there,” Clark said.
She admits she selfishly thought for a second that maybe now would be a good time to visit, since others would cancel.
“But then it just felt so selfish,” she said. “I didn’t want to be that person.”
It was too late for a full refund on their Airbnb, so they moved their booking and flight to May. They still lost about $700 on a Turo car rental booking, though, which they can afford. She said she understands others aren’t in the same financial position, but she couldn’t take a risk, especially with two unvaccinated kids, ages 2 and 6 months.
“I know there’s people out there that they can get a refund, and it’s frustrating and it’s expensive and they spent thousands of dollars, but to me, I think, ‘My childrens’ lives, you can’t even put a worth to that.”’
Kansas City family sticking with rebooked October Hawaii trip unless travel restrictions tightened
Kate Magee, her husband and two friends have plane tickets to Hawaii in early October. They own a timeshare in Maui and also plan to visit Honolulu for a few days.
This year’s trip is a rescheduled trip from last year.
Magee has been obsessively watching Hawaii news for the past few weeks as the state’s case counts surged after remaining relatively low throughout the pandemic. Hawaii on Friday reported 1,035 cases, a single-day record. That is double the number of daily cases just a few weeks ago and compares with a daily average of just 60 cases a day in mid-July. Magee figured tighter travel restrictions were coming, perhaps a reinstatement of the COVID-19 test requirement even for vaccinated visitors.
The governor’s announcement urging tourists not to visit threw her because he didn’t change the entry requirements.
“I just can’t believe we’re here again with all this,” she said.
Magee, who is 34 and lives in Kansas City, said the current plan is to take the trip. She got vaccinated recently specifically so she could safely visit Hawaii (she had put it off due to reactions to certain medications) and plans to get tested before the trip.
“I’m torn,” she said. “I’m all about making the island safe. I understand they only have one hospital; I also feel like we’re not the issue. We’re the ones that have to be vaccinated to come or the alternative is to get tested.”
Money is another factor, she said.
“I completely understand locals and their views on it, but at the same time there’s people like me and my friends who have thousands of dollars in this and we can’t get refunds unless (the governor) completely locks the state down,” she said.
The deciding factor on whether to go to Hawaii will be whether travel restrictions like beach closures and resort bubbles are brought back, Magee said.
Magee has called her condo company and Trilogy, the operator of a day trip she booked to Lanai, in search of answers about coming restrictions.
“I know you guys can’t predict the future, I’m just trying to get a feel if we still go are we going to still be able to do stuff,” she said. “They said they’re waiting to see what the governor says. I can’t imagine what they’re going through.”
Phoenix couple still on the fence: ‘I’m conflicted’
Scott Clapp has until Tuesday to cancel the VRBO rental he booked in Maui for a mid-September trip and receive a full refund. He and his wife, who are both fully vaccinated, booked cheap plane tickets to Hawaii in May, when Southwest Airlines announced new nonstop service from Phoenix.
He is leaning toward going despite the governor’s request to stay away – Clapp works in local government and sees some “political posturing’’ in the governor’s request since no travel restrictions were tightened – but doesn’t want to be confined to their rental if restrictions are imposed in the next few weeks.
“I’m conflicted,” he said. “One second I feel like I think I’m going. And then another second, I’m like, ‘no maybe you should cancel.’’’
This weekend, he plans to look over travel insurance he purchased at the last minute from Vrbo to see whether it offers a refund in case of a state lockdown, which gives him room beyond Tuesday to make a decision.
If it does cover lockdowns, he said, “I might be inclined to let things ride and go.’’
He has $2,500 on the line in lodging alone, and if there’s no financial “safety net’’ in the policy, he said, “then I may be inclined to cancel.’’
If the couple decide to fly to Maui, which would be their first flight during the pandemic, Clapp doesn’t see that as a risky or selfish move. He noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for domestic travel says it is low risk for vaccinated travelers. The policy was announced in April, before the delta variant emerged and cases surged, and has not significantly changed since.
Ige said in a recent news conference and in interviews that he can’t easily reinstate the COVID-19 travel testing requirement for all travelers, including those who are vaccinated. He said he and other governors are trying to get the CDC to update its guidance.
“CDC is continually reviewing our COVID-19 travel guidance with the emergence of the Delta variant, but at this time we have not made any changes to our travel recommendations,” the CDC said in a statement provided by spokesperson Caitlin Shockey.
“If you’re unvaccinated and you’re wanting to travel and do these kinds of things, I think that’s unwise. You might be a little selfish,’’ Clapp said. “If you’re vaccinated, you may be less selfish. To me, I’m vaccinated and I had COVID, and I don’t think I’m being selfish.’’
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