Interisland travelers to the Big Island will be able to avoid or cut short a two-week quarantine under a new rule by Mayor Harry Kim that goes into effect today.
The rule, which was announced Tuesday, puts Hawaii County in line with other counties that already implemented interisland travel policies, but adds an option to take a COVID-19 test before or after arriving in the county.
Based on the new rule, travelers can choose to take a COVID-19 test up to 72 hours before arriving on the Big Island from a neighbor island and, with a negative result, skip the 14-day quarantine entirely. Travelers who do not take the pre-arrival test will have to quarantine, and those who do not have their results ready by the time they arrive will have to quarantine until the results are available.
However, travelers can choose instead to take a test after arrival, and will be allowed to break quarantine to do so. By submitting a negative result from that test to the state, the traveler will no longer be subject to the remainder of their quarantine.
“I told myself, ‘S—-, Harry, how come we didn’t think of this before?’” Kim said. “Truth be told, it took a whole team and a lot of planning to come up with this.”
Relying on only a single pre-arrival test was not ideal for many Big Island residents, Kim said, because many people travel between neighbor islands for more than three days at a time, thus requiring multiple tests for every round trip. Also, the one-test model put enormous pressure on the county’s ability to monitor and enforce quarantines, which Kim admitted was a daunting task.
Kim said the county’s quarantine monitoring apparatus is flawed and incapable of enforcing all quarantine cases.
He hopes travelers will choose to confirm their health status in order to avoid the possibility of penalties for breaking quarantine, which will in turn lower the number of people in quarantine and reduce the county’s workload.
“It’s a lot of stress off the average traveler,” Kim said.
However, interisland travelers are responsible for paying for their own tests. Kim said the valid testing partners for interisland screenings are the same as those unveiled by Gov. David Ige last week, which include Clinical Laboratories of Hawaii, CVS Health, Hawaii Pacific Health, Kaiser Permanente, Minit Medical, Walgreens, Urgent Care Hawaii and Vault Health.
With the new policy in place, interisland and out-of-state travelers are able to avoid quarantines on the Big Island. But while interisland travelers only require one negative COVID-19 test, trans-Pacific travelers still require two negative tests, one from before the flight and one from after.
The island’s trans-Pacific testing policies might still be revised, Kim said. The current post-flight testing program at the island’s airports actually runs contrary to expert recommendations, he said, but was the only workable solution.
“They said travelers should really be getting PCR tests three to four days after arrival,” Kim said. “But we weren’t able to enforce another quarantine without that test, and where else would everyone take the test anyway?”
Kim said he and Hawaii County Civil Defense will monitor case numbers and test results throughout the next several weeks to determine whether the island’s travel policies are sufficient or need to be reverted.
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.