More than 83,000 visitors have flown to Hawaii since Oct. 15

  • Richu Channakeshava, left, and Nikunj Yadav look at the view from an overlook at Akaka Falls State Park in Honomu on Thursday. The couple has been traveling through the Big Island for over a week. (Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald)

  • People can only walk one way through Akaka Falls State Park to allow for more social distancing on the trail in Honomu on Thursday. (Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald)

  • Tourists take in the view of Akaka Falls at the state park in Honomu on Thursday. (Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald)

Since the state reopened to tourism on Oct. 15, the number of trans-Pacific air arrivals has more than quadrupled the total for all of September.

As of Wednesday, 83,942 trans-Pacific passengers had arrived by direct flight at all of the state’s major airports since Oct. 15. The total number for all of September was 18,868 — when arriving passengers, with some exemptions for essential reasons such as work and health care — were legally required to abide by a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine.

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The September visitor air arrivals from out of state were down 97.4% due to the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to the 736,155 air passengers in September 2019, according to statistics from the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

On Oct. 15, the state instituted its Safe Travels program, allowing trans-Pacific passengers arriving with a negative COVID-19 test from one of the state’s “trusted partners” to avoid the quarantine.

The nearly 6,000 arriving passengers daily since the program went into effect is about a quarter of the approximately 25,000 daily air arrivals in October 2019.

Gov. David Ige told the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness on Monday arrival numbers “clearly exceeded my expectations of what would happen.”

Carl Bonham, executive director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization and a member of the committee, said the state has seen “a more rapid return of visitors, certainly, than we had built into our baseline forecast.”

As expected, the lion’s share of direct-flight arrivals from out of state in the past two weeks, 46,564, touched down at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu. Kahului Airport on Maui had the second-largest number of trans-Pacific arrivals between Oct. 15-28, 17,809.

Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole had 9,891 arrivals during that period — with 4,601 arriving as visitors and 1,733 returning residents. The discrepancy in numbers include those arriving as air crew, military, essential workers or for other purposes.

There are no direct commercial flights from out of state arriving at Hilo International Airport. There are, however, passengers from out of state arriving in Hilo with a layover at the Honolulu airport, and they are included in the Honolulu numbers.

Mayor Harry Kim is requiring trans-Pacific arrivals at the Big Island’s three airports, which includes the Waimea-Kohala Airport, to get another COVID-19 test — a rapid-response antigen test, which takes about 15-20 minutes for results — upon arrival in Hawaii County. Those who fail that test are immediately administered a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR test, and are required to quarantine until a negative result is received, usually within a day or so. Those who test positive on the follow-up are subject to the 14-day quarantine.

Between Oct. 15 and Wednesday, there were 8,569 rapid tests administered at the Big Island airports — 7,854 in Kona and 715 in Hilo — according to Premier Medical Group, which is doing the testing. Of those, there were 49 positive tests, all but one in Kona. Only five tested positive on a follow-up PCR test, all in Kona — a positivity rate of 0.058%.

Kim told the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday the county is re-evaluating the need for post-arrival testing at the airports.

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Asked if it is because of the low positivity rate, Kim replied, “Absolutely.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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