Trans-Pacific travel: Ready for prime time? Kim says no

  • A passenger arrives at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport Honolulu Tuesday afternoon. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

With just two weeks remaining to get it all together, Hawaii’s pretest trans-Pacific travel plan is not ready for prime time, Mayor Harry Kim said Tuesday, a sentiment echoed by two recent travelers to the Big Island.

Kim said he and the other mayors are meeting with Gov. David Ige today to work out a plan to institute the test-and-trace program, but he’s advising the state not try to put it in place on Oct. 15, as currently planned. There are too many gaps, he said.


“It’s not as easy as just a pretest. … How are you going to distinguish between those who have been tested and who has not. … How do you monitor these people?” Kim asked. “The county of Hawaii is having a very, very difficult time being the agency to ID who these travelers are. We will have a policy that’s impossible to enforce.”

An Ige spokeswoman said Tuesday afternoon the plan is still a work in progress.

“Things are getting hammered out, so watch for updates and announcements later this week,” said Jodi Leong.

The governor’s office has been deluged with phone calls and emails from travelers anxious to know the status of the plan, forcing the office to put up automated phone messages directing travelers to the website. Travelers may also use the page to leave a message.

Michelle Ellis, who flew from the mainland to Kona on Sept. 20, said she encountered a number of problems using the Safe Travels app in conjunction with her 14-day quarantine. The app was unclear about how many QR codes she needed to make the trip, she said. The instructions said one QR code per trip, but she actually needed one for each leg of the trip.

This caused confusion when she reached Kona International Airport, because she didn’t have the required QR code on her phone. The contract workers screening incoming passengers were rude and unhelpful, she said, treating her abruptly and not allowing her to set down her laptop to re-register for a new code, something she said she couldn’t do on her phone.

“We had thought we were good to go,” Ellis said. “People from Roberts threatened us, saying, ‘Get this done or you will be arrested.’ And I looked at them and said, ‘Do not threaten me.’ It wasn’t like we trying to cheat the system. …. This isn’t aloha.”

A spokesman in the state’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center said the complaint about Roberts was forwarded to management.

As far as the app, “the development team is continuously working to improve the digital platform. Updates to the platform are being made weekly to add features or improve the user interface. Clarifying verbiage for the trips is one of the improvements being made,” the spokesman said.

Ellis said contact tracers called her using blocked phone numbers with no identification, and she wasn’t comfortable that it wasn’t a scam call. She suggested the contact tracers use ID on their phones to help put quarantiners’ concerns at rest.

Andy Rogers, who traveled to Kona from Edmonds, Washington, on Sept. 7, said no contact tracers contacted him during his entire 14-day quarantine.

“Things are so convoluted,” Rogers said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I felt that Hawaii’s efforts to get more tourists here will be DOA.”

Rogers was so put off by the “chaotic” conditions at both departure and arrival points, he wrote a letter to the editor.

“My experience was that anything outside the normal procedure proved difficult for airport staff and the tourist,” he said.

Kim worries that improperly screened travelers could set off another COVID-19 flare-up. He cited an example of a Big Island resident who returned from Honolulu not knowing he had contracted coronavirus.

“He came back, he tested positive, he gave it to his wife and in the meantime, he attended a gathering of mainly family and 17 of those people got infected and then 11 employees working with him got infected,” Kim said. “That’s 30 people.”

In another case, one person traveling from the mainland infected 40 people in Hawaii, Kim said.

Kim said he recognizes the need to find a way to reopen interisland travel for residents, many of whom work on other islands. He also wants beaches and parks back open, he said. Plans for those two aspects are in the works.


People need to be able to maintain their lifestyle while still keeping to the top three tenets of wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance from one another and not gathering in groups.

”I’m trying to keep those things open .. but still maintain those three things: distancing, face masks and gathering,” Kim said. “What’s wrong with going to the beach if you observe face masks, distancing and gathering? This is not going to end in a day, in a week, in a month.”

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