Gov. David Ige announced plans Wednesday to reopen Hawaii to more visitors, months after the COVID-19 pandemic prompted mandatory two-week quarantines for those arriving from out of state.
“Today, I’m announcing that beginning Aug. 1, we will implement a pre-travel testing program for travelers to Hawaii as an alternative to the 14-day mandatory quarantine,” Ige said during a press conference Wednesday in Honolulu.
Mandatory quarantines for out-of-state arrivals began March 26, and mandatory quarantines for interisland travelers started April 1. The interisland quarantine was lifted June 16.
Travelers who have a valid and negative COVID-19 test prior to arrival will not be subject to the mandatory quarantine, but the quarantine will remain in place for those who choose to forego testing.
While the test requirements are still being determined, Ige said the state is looking at requiring the tests within 72 hours of boarding. He said testing visitors upon arrival doesn’t work for Hawaii and would take testing capacity away from the community.
The DOH is still developing the program but anticipates requiring a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved test from a certified laboratory. Travelers will have to provide printed or emailed pre-test certification as evidence of a negative test result.
Ige said the mandatory quarantine measure has been one of the most effective measures in helping the state control the spread of COVID-19.
“The health of our community continues to be our primary focus and priority,” Ige said. “This multi-layered health screening process allows travelers to return and allows us to continue to protect the health and the safety of our community.”
Temperature checks and screenings will continue, he said, and anyone with a fever of 100.4 or those experiencing other symptoms will have to go through a secondary screening process upon arrival. Ige said travelers also must fill out the mandatory state health form.
The ongoing pandemic has had tremendous impact on Hawaii’s economy, Ige said.
“Now is the time to work together as a community to ensure our residents and local businesses can safety return to a larger volume of travelers.”
Lt. Gov. Josh Green, a Kohala ER physician, said a pre-test is not perfect, but it will minimize the risk that COVID-19 will be imported into Hawaii.
The number of hospitalizations, and the percentage of ventilators and intensive care unit beds currently in use, are “utterly low” compared to other states, which gives Hawaii the opportunity to begin to reopen the state to travelers, he said.
Green said many places around the world are doing similar programs, and Alaska in particular has been guiding Hawaii.
“We’ve seen a lot of their results,” he said. “We can see how it can work and how it can be improved.”
It’s not a silver bullet, Green said.
“But it is another part of the multi-layered system the Department of Health has come up with to complement comprehensive tracing capacity … to complement screening people for temperatures and the thermal screening … and to be able to trace people constantly. That will make the difference.”
Green said protocols are being developed for Hawaii residents who might travel out of state for short trips.
“Because it would not be sensible, if someone just goes for two days to the mainland, (to) have them get a test immediately at the airport or the day they land,” he said.
Alaska, for example, has asked its residents to get tested three or four days after returning and to lay low until they’ve received a negative test result.
Ige also said the state has been working with private sector partners to administer tests to those who request it for travel purposes, and Green said some states are offering tests to all their residents. Green said CVS is one of the companies Hawaii is working with to provide pre-testing on the mainland.
Mayor Harry Kim said he told Ige on Wednesday he decided to support the lifting of the quarantine for out-of-state arrivals after the governor agreed to use a geographic information system developed by Hawaii County Civil Defense to monitor incoming passengers from out of state.
The system is a digitized data base that will use information from the mandatory travel forms, Kim said.
“We had no real-time data, nobody did … as afar as who they are, where they’re staying, dates, etc.,” Kim said.
Kim said he wanted the system in place by July 1 so authorities “could get the bugs out” by Aug. 1, and said Ige agreed.
“The airlines had already indicated that they were really going to ramp up the planes coming to the Big Island, and I said we have to use this month to really perfect this system and train people,” Kim said.
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org and John Burnett at email@example.com.