Public-private partnership ensures continued post-arrival virus testing at Kona airport

  • Mitch Roth

  • Premier Medical personnel perform COVID-19 Rapid Tests on trans-Pacific passengers on Oct. 16 at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

A public-private partnership will ensure post-arrival COVID-19 testing continues through mid-January at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole.

The partnership between unnamed private philanthropists and Hawaii County will ensure the continuation of trans-Pacific post-arrival testing for all passengers — visitors and residents alike — through Jan. 15, 2021. The mandatory testing is unique to Hawaii County and was implemented in addition to the state’s Safe Travels program in mid-October utilizing federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act.

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Federal CARES Act funding that had covered the program ended Tuesday. The partnership ensured the effort continued Wednesday without any lapse in testing at the international airport. The trans-Pacific post-arrival testing program costs about $100,000 per day to operate.

“Having these people so generously take over this stuff, it’s really a great insurance policy for our community at a time where government couldn’t afford to do it,” Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth said Wednesday afternoon, after noting that the altruists from the Kohala Coast have contributed hundreds of thousands since the start of the pandemic and have asked for nothing in return.

The continued testing at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole ensures Hawaii Island doesn’t have to re-implement mandatory quarantines for trans-Pacific travelers, thus slowing down any chance of economic recovery. When asked about post-arrival testing after mid-January, Roth said it’s a “wait and see.”

“The real hope is we get through the holiday season, the high surge time, and make sure that we’re safe. We want to be as safe as we can for our community and we want our community to be safe and not to worry about where you’re next meal is going to come from because you’re out of work,” he said.

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Trans-Pacific post-arrival testing has acted as an added layer of protection for Hawaii Island residents since the return of tourism in October, Roth said. To date, 45 positive cases have been detected in travelers who had received the state’s negative test exemption.

“It’s not that every body tested negative on the mainland is coming through and testing negative — we get about a case a day where people are testing positive at our airports here,” Roth said. “Being able to put those people into quarantine rather than put them amongst our public is pretty huge.”

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