Before Wesley Moribe and Courtney Peterson boarded their flight from San Francisco to Hawaii on Sunday, the couple knew they had already tested positive for the coronavirus. But when the time came for their trip home with their 4-year-old, the couple ignored the advice of airport officials who instructed them not to travel and walked onto the United Airlines plane with both their luggage and a virus that’s already killed at least 272,000 Americans.
The couple were arrested shortly after landing at Lihue Airport and now face second-degree reckless endangerment charges, a spokesperson with the Kauai Police Department told The Washington Post on Wednesday.
“They knowingly boarded a flight aware of their positive covid-19 test results, placing the passengers of the flight in danger of death,” the spokesperson, Coco Zickos, said.
If convicted, Moribe, 41, and Peterson, 46, could face up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
The couple’s arrest is the latest known incident of infected passengers ignoring health and safety guidelines when traveling to Hawaii. Hawaii’s new daily reported cases and deaths have declined over the past seven days. Although the state has established a pre-travel testing program for people arriving as way to curb the spread of the virus, defiant travelers have proved they can still manage to land in the Aloha State with the coronavirus.
The incident comes days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pleaded with Americans not to travel for the holiday season as cases across the United States continued to surge in record numbers, an ask many travelers ignored the week of Thanksgiving.
The Wailua couple did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment early Thursday.
A United spokesperson told The Post in an email that the couple has been banned from flying the airline. United is also conducting an investigation of the incident, the spokesperson added.
“The health and safety of our employees and customers is our highest priority, which is why we have various policies and procedures in place as part of a multilayered approach to create a safer travel environment,” a United spokesperson told The Post in an email.
Before flying any United flight, passengers must wear a mask and complete a checklist acknowledging they have not been diagnosed with the virus, the airline’s spokesperson said.
Since the start of the pandemic, some residents and travelers have attempted to defy Hawaii’s covid laws. In April, Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami called a Florida man a “covidiot” after the man arrived on the island intoxicated and without any proof of accommodations in an effort to get away with quarantine rules. Then, in May, a New York man spent some of his vacation in an Oahu jail for allegedly breaking his quarantine and traveling to several places using public transportation.
Police said a preliminary report by the San Francisco International Airport’s quarantine station revealed that the couple was asked to isolate and not to board a plane to Hawaii on Sunday following their positive test results. The couple ignored the advice and boarded the 757 for the nearly six-hour flight with their young child, police said.
Once they landed at Lihue Airport, police who had been alerted about the couple took them into custody, authorities said. The couple’s 4-year-old child was released to a family member, police added. The couple has since been released after posting the $1,000 bail set for each.
Kawakami referenced the couple’s arrest during a news conference this week, noting an increase in reported cases because of travel.
“We have seen an unprecedented surge in new infections on our island, most of them associated with travelers, both visitors and residents,” Kawakami said.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) approved Kawakami’s request last week to temporarily stop participating in the Safe Travels program, the state’s pre-travel testing program. All travelers arriving into Kauai will still have to undergo a 14-day quarantine, regardless of whether they have a negative test.
In a news release, Ige stressed the importance of keeping infection numbers down on an island that can’t afford to have its hospitals filled with coronavirus patients the same way that others have on the mainland.
“We must protect Kaua‘i residents and visitors and ensure that Kaua‘i’s hospitals do not become overwhelmed,” Ige said.