HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Waikiki Shell parking lot is being used as part of a repatriation effort for American Samoans stuck in the state.
The US territory sealed off its borders at the start of the pandemic nearly 10 months ago, stranding hundreds of residents in Hawaii and across the US. The city is partnering with the state to help facilitate safe travel and quarantine arrangements for those American Samoans.
There are 160 people on the first repatriation flight Jan. 29 from Honolulu to American Samoa.
“I’m excited to go back home. I’ve got three young kids at home,” said Faafeo Lagafuaina, who just flew into Honolulu from Washington State. She has been separated from her children for a year.
American Samoa has remained COVID-free because it closed its borders.
“It’s a very touchy subject because a lot of people are really against this flight,” said Lagafuaina.
Walter Laussen, who has been living on Oahu, is also among those returning.
“If I wasn’t in this flight I would have been homeless,” he said, adding he plans to surprise his mother when he arrives home. “She doesn’t know that I’m coming back home.
“I just want to give her a big surprise that I came back,” he said.
After check-in at the Waikiki Shell, the group went to the White Sands Hotel in Waikiki, where they’ll undergo testing and quarantine. After arrival in American Samoa, they’ll quarantine again.
A medical team is at the Waikiki hotel and says the territory’s only hospital would be overwhelmed if any virus got in.
“Put the risk at this end because we could not sustain it at the other end. We started with a 10-day quarantine with two COVID tests hoping to reduce the potential risk,” said Dr. Cecelia Alailima, quarantine administrator for American Samoa Government’s Department of Health.
Health officials say 1,200 American Samoans in the United States have signed up to repatriated and those on the first flight have advice for others still waiting.
“Don’t give up. There’s always a way,” said Laussen.