Couple Arrested After Boarding Flight to Hawaii Despite Testing Positive for COVID-19: Authorities
Wesley Moribe and Courtney Peterson, who had a 4-year-old child with them, were charged with reckless endangering in the second degree
A couple was arrested on Sunday after they boarded a flight back home to Hawaii, even though police say the pair knew they had tested positive for COVID-19.
Coco Zickos, the Public Information Officer at Kaua‘i Police Department (KPD), confirms to PEOPLE that the incident unfolded as Wesley Moribe and Courtney Peterson were traveling from the San Francisco International Airport to Lihue Airport in Hawaii.
The pair, who live in Wailua, was traveling with a 4-year-old child and had both tested positive for coronavirus prior to their United Airlines flight on Sunday, according to Zickos.
Despite knowing they had received positive results and being instructed by the Quarantine Station at the San Francisco International Airport to isolate and not to board the plane, Zickos says Moribe, 41, and Peterson, 46, still got on their flight.
In a statement to PEOPLE, a spokesperson for United says, "We are investigating this matter further to assess these passengers' ability to fly on United in the future."
"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 multi-layered approach to create a safer travel environment," the spokesperson continues. "Prior to traveling, all United customers are required to complete a 'Ready to Fly' checklist acknowledging they have not been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last 14 days."
A representative for San Francisco International Airport declined to comment on the specific matter but tells PEOPLE, "The airport would not be routinely informed on where passengers get tested, nor would the airport be advised of a positive test result."
According to Zickos, KPD officials at Lihue Airport were notified about the couple before identifying and contacting them once they arrived in Hawaii.
Authorities then escorted the pair and the 4-year-old to a designated isolation room, where they were investigated further by officers equipped with PPE, including gloves, protective gowns and masks/safety shields, Zickos says.
An investigation determined that Moribe and Peterson "knowingly boarded a flight aware of their positive COVID-19 test results, placing the passengers of the flight in danger of death," according to Zickos.
The couple was arrested and charged with reckless endangering in the second degree before being transported to Lihue Headquarters and booked. They both posted bail, set at $1,000 each.
Meanwhile, the 4-year-old child was released into the care of a family member and Child Protective Services was notified, officials say.
"The Kauai Police Department, working alongside our county and state partners, remain diligent in protecting the health and safety of our island," Chief of Police Todd G. Raybuck said in a statement. "We continue to request visitors and residents alike to follow the Governor’s Emergency Rules and take all necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19."
At this time, it is unclear if Moribe and Peterson have retained legal defense. An attorney for the pair could not be immediately found.
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Hawaii responded swiftly to the coronavirus pandemic in March, putting a mandatory 14-day quarantine in place and later closing its borders to tourists, which helped them avoid the early case spikes that plagued much of the rest of the country.
In August and early September, however, cases began to increase, according to data from The New York Times.
By October, the state announced that they were planning to reopen to tourists with restrictions in place and would no longer require a 14-day quarantine, as long as visitors produced a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their flight.
All travelers headed to Hawaii must also create a profile on Safe Travels to help the state track and enforce quarantines for visitors who opt out of pre-travel testing.
As of Wednesday, there have been at least 18,049 cases and 242 deaths attributed to coronavirus in Hawaii, according to the New York Times.
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