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Hawaii Residents Worry About Returning Tourists Heedless of Pandemic

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Palakiko Chandler took their little cousins to Nanakuli Beach on Oahu last weekend and noticed something they hadn’t seen in a while: a parking lot full of rental cars. The tourists were back.

“It was just so packed,” said Mr. Chandler, 27 and a Native Hawaiian. “Me and my cousins were looking at each other like, should we just go home?” The youngest cousins needed several reminders to keep their distance from strangers for virus safety.

For much of the pandemic, Hawaii had some of the strictest rules for visitors in the United States, requiring a 14-day quarantine for everyone arriving in the islands. The policy took a heavy economic toll on a state that depends heavily on tourism, but it was lauded for its success in limiting the impact of the virus for months.

Now, though, Hawaii has reopened for travelers: A negative test within 72 hours of arrival lets them skip the quarantine in most places. At least 28,000 people arrived in Hawaii on each of the last two Saturdays, according to state travel data  the most in a day since the pandemic began, and not far from typical prepandemic levels.

The influx has residents worried. Some have been posting on social media for months, pleading with mainlanders not to come, or if they do, to be mindful of the islands’ isolation and limited resources. The state has a total of 3,000 hospital beds for its population of 1.4 million, and has among the fewest I.C.U. beds per capita of any state; they were often mostly full even before the pandemic.

Hawaii’s precautions did not keep the virus out completely: The islands had a holiday surge, like the rest of the country, and parts of the state are struggling with outbreaks now. Daily new case reports have doubled since late February, with some recent clusters focused on tourism workers. Hospitalizations have increased 17 percent in the last two weeks.

“The looming concerning things are the variants,” said Dr. Damien Kapono Chong-Hanssen of the Kauai Community Health Center. “The California variant has been implicated in what’s happening in Maui right now. Maui is not looking better.”

Mainlanders are making the trip anyway. “Hawaii is again packed with tourists,” wrote the travel site The Points Guy. Favorite sites are sold out, check-in lines are long, and the lines for outbound flights are getting longer.

Tourists are crowding popular beaches without wearing masks or paying much attention to social distancing. Some visitors have gotten rowdy. A pair of arriving tourists were sent home after trying to pay a bribe to avoid the testing requirement.

The situation is worsening the irritation that many state residents feel toward vacationers. Now the tourists aren’t just crowding the island and driving up prices, they say, they are also heedlessly risking everyone’s health.

“Hawaiians and locals alike have always seen the disrespect that tourists bring to our islands,” Mr. Chandler said. “This is kind of the last straw. You’re coming to our home and you’re endangering us during a pandemic.”

The tension is especially prevalent among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, who face greater risk for Covid-19 and higher rates of chronic disease than average.

“Local people are tired of being treated a certain type of way,” said Charles Kaua Taylor-Fulton, 20, who lives on Oahu. “When tourists come, they can be very rude or entitled. There’s just a sense of entitlement.”

Dr. Lee Buenconsejo-Lum of the University of Hawaii at Manoa said the state’s case numbers are not exploding, at least not yet. But she said she would like to see travelers exhibit the same commitment to wearing masks that locals have. “It’s a matter of constantly educating the tourists,” she said.

Still, the high travel season is just getting started, and restrictions are continuing to ease. Bars have reopened in parts of the state and outdoor weddings are now allowed to welcome up to 100 guests.

“We can already see into the future of summer,” Mr. Chandler said, “and it’s going to be packed.”

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