Ige: ‘Vaccine passport’ program unlikely until May

Vaccinated travelers could be exempt from COVID-19 travel restrictions by May, Gov. David Ige said Monday.

During a livestreamed interview Monday, Ige said the state might institute a “vaccine passport” program, although he emphasized that the state is still “a while away” from such a policy.

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The vaccine passport is a long-discussed concept that would allow travelers who can prove they have completed a COVID-19 vaccination regimen to skip travel requirements such as the state’s Safe Travels program, wherein travelers must submit a negative COVID-19 test taken three days before arrival in order to avoid being quarantined.

Ige has repeatedly said there are no immediate plans to implement a vaccine passport program, and reiterated that point again Monday.

“The (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is saying that we shouldn’t treat vaccinated individuals differently,” Ige said. “They shouldn’t be traveling, those traveling should be doing so on essential business only, and they are recommending that, even if you are vaccinated, you should get tested. So the Safe Travels program continues unchanged.”

However, Ige added that vaccinations could be widely administered enough for the state to make changes to Safe Travels in May, which he said corresponds with statements by President Joe Biden that everyone in America who wants the vaccine will be able to get it by the end of that month.

“I would anticipate that that’s about the timeline that we may be looking at changes, when the majority are vaccinated, and we don’t see the spread of the virus at the levels we are right now,” Ige said.

In the meantime, Ige said the state is working on a pilot program to develop a “common pass” that would validate COVID tests from a wider range of testing sites.

Ige said he also is discussing with the state’s mayors the possibility of changing interisland travel requirements and other COVID restrictions, as virus cases continue to drop in each county except for Maui.

“We’re all getting better at understanding how the virus can spread,” Ige said. “So, I’m comfortable, as we see lower case counts … we’ve been working with all the mayors to find how to lower restrictions on all islands.”

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Ige pushed back against setting arbitrary deadlines for the return of in-person learning at Hawaii schools, reiterating that the state is committed to ensuring it has all the necessary safety measures in place before bringing students back. However, he said the end may be in sight for many other aspects of the pandemic.

“I really do see us getting back to normal by early- to midsummer,” Ige said.

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