(CNN) — Hawaii Gov. David Ige asked tourists to voluntarily stay away from the state amid a record surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, though he stopped short of placing onerous restrictions on out-of-state visitors.
"We know that it is not a good time to travel to the islands," Ige, a Democrat, said Monday. "The visitors who choose to come to the islands will not have the typical kind of holiday that they expect to get when they visit."
He said tourism is hampered by a return of some Covid health restrictions, along with a shortage of rental cars. "There will be limited access to restaurants and other places to eat," he said.
The governor's request came on the same day Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi announced that the county would suspend all large gatherings for four weeks, including conventions and concerts. Indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 25 people, and restaurants are limited to 50% capacity, according to an emergency health order. "Covid-19 cases are up dramatically, and our healthcare workers are being pushed beyond their limits," Blangiardi tweeted Monday.
Spurred by the highly transmissible Delta variant, Hawaii is in the midst of a surge in new Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations that has surpassed any previous point in the pandemic.
The state has averaged about 700 new cases per day over the last week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, a total 10 times higher than in early July. In particular, Covid hospitalizations have doubled in the last two weeks, according to data from US Health and Human Services.
Still, Covid-19 deaths remain remarkably low, a likely consequence of the state's above-average vaccination rate; about 66% of adults in Hawaii are fully vaccinated. Throughout the pandemic, Hawaii has had some of the strictest measures in the US in place and required all visitors to either quarantine for 10 days or present a negative Covid test upon arrival. Early last month, the state began to allow fully vaccinated visitors to bypass those restrictions.
The restrictions had sharply limited new Covid-19 cases for much of the past year but had a brutal economic impact on a state so heavily reliant on tourism.
As of July, Hawaii had a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 7.3%, sixth worst among all states, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Further, Hawaii had the highest unemployment rate of any state when looking at the most broadly defined category of unemployment, known as U-6, which includes discouraged workers and people forced to work part time because full time work is not available.
Gov. Ige acknowledged these issues but still asked visitors not to come to better protect hospitals from being overwhelmed.
"Certainly, our call to reduce travel to the islands to only central businesses will have an impact on the numbers who come here, but I also would like to point out that our hospitals are at capacity, our ICUs are full. We are working on surge plans and every facility to expand capacity, we're transitioning acute care beds to be able to support those who are sick," he said.
"And so, I do know that that's a risk, but I believe that as a community that's a risk we have to take to discourage travel to the islands until we can get to a better place with our health care facilities."