A program that would allow out-of-state travelers to avoid a two-week quarantine upon arriving in Hawaii has been delayed until September, with officials saying the state requires more time to prepare for an influx of visitors.
Gov. David Ige announced Monday that the launch of a pre-travel testing program that would allow trans-Pacific travelers to forgo the mandatory 14-day quarantine upon submission of a negative COVID-19 test taken less than 72 hours before arrival has been delayed until Sept. 1, one month after it was initially planned to begin.
“This was not an easy decision to make,” Ige said at a news conference Monday. “It really was a choice between two difficult options: On one hand, we continue to move forward and reopen our economy, but risk an uncontrolled surge of COVID-19 cases; on the other hand, we could delay the pre-travel test program and risk further damage to our economy.”
Hawaii’s mayors had told Ige last week that they did not believe the program was sufficient to protect the community. Mayor Harry Kim iterated Friday that the plan requires additional controls before he can endorse it in good conscience.
“Pushing it back is helpful to get things in place,” Kim said Monday, explaining that the current monitoring system for screening and quarantining visitors is insufficient to track the thousands of visitors expected to arrive in the state.
With at least one extra month to work with, Ige said he will continue to add details to the pre-travel testing program in consultation with the mayors and state Health Director Bruce Anderson.
However, Ige and Anderson specified Monday that the program will require all travelers, regardless of age, to have a negative test in order to forgo the quarantine, and if test results are not available when the traveler arrives, they will have to quarantine until the results are available.
Travelers also will be responsible for their own testing costs, and no commercial testing will be available at Hawaii airports.
Ige said the decision to push back the program was motivated by several factors, not the least of which was an explosion of COVID-19 cases in several mainland states over the last several days. California had nearly 25,000 new cases over the weekend, while Florida recorded the highest number of new cases in a single day for any state in the nation on Sunday, when 15,300 new cases were reported.
“We’re appealing to people from the worst-impacted states to come here,” Kim said. “I understand why they’d want to come here, but it’s risky to open ourselves up to these very, very explosive places right now.”
Hawaii itself also has seen an increase in cases recently, setting a record 41 cases last week before breaking that record Saturday with new 42 cases. Three more people in the state died of COVID-19 as well.
However, Ige said his decision to extend the quarantine also was influenced by a delay in the supply chain for testing supplies, which he said could delay test results by over a week, which he called “unacceptable.” While he said the state can currently handle its current rate of testing, opening the state to more visitors could overwhelm the state’s testing apparatus.
Extending the mandatory quarantine has far-reaching consequences. Businesses that rely on tourists will have to endure for at least one more month as federal relief funds dry up.
“We want to welcome back our visitors once our state is ready to do so in a safe manner that will hopefully avoid the need to backtrack in the future,” said Chris Tatum, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, in a statement Monday. “Once we receive details on the process and requirements from the Department of Transportation and the DOH, we will share that information with the visitor industry.”
Meanwhile, college students who planned to return to the state in August for the fall semester are in an increasingly complicated situation.
University of Hawaii President David Lassner announced Monday a “quarantine bubble” program that would allow students to participate in university activities while quarantining.
UH students from out of state who arrive in Hawaii with a negative COVID-19 test will be allowed to attend university activities, but will otherwise be required to quarantine in their residences while submitting to daily health checks.
Lassner said the program will only apply to UH students on Oahu and Kauai. More information about that program will be revealed today, he said.
Ige also announced Monday that he is extending the statewide moratorium on eviction proceedings for failure to pay rent until the end of August.
Earlier Monday, Ige also appeared during a meeting of the House Select Committee on COVID-19, where attendees discussed the broader economic impacts of the pandemic.
U.S. Rep. Ed Case, who represents Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District, said he and other legislators are working on the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, which may provide additional financial support for unemployed people nationwide.
Case said he anticipates the bill will be passed by the end of July, although he admitted he is unsure what it’s final form will entail.