Ige: Safe Travels program will end March 25

  • IGE

HONOLULU — Hawaii plans to lift its COVID-19 quarantine requirement for travelers this month, meaning that starting on March 26 those arriving from other places in the U.S. won’t have to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to avoid sequestering themselves for five days.

Hawaii is the only U.S. state to implement a coronavirus quarantine program of this kind.

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Gov. David Ige said at a news conference the requirement saved lives and was a major factor in limiting the spread of COVID-19 in the islands. Hawaii has one of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in the nation.

The quarantine period for travelers lasted 14 days when Hawaii first imposed it in March 2020. The state later created testing and vaccination exemptions.

The state screened 11.3 million passengers since the testing exemption was launched in October 2020, Ige said.

Those arriving in Hawaii from outside the country still must adhere to U.S. federal guidelines, which vary depending on American citizenship. International tourists do not need to quarantine but still need proof of vaccination and a negative test.

The governor said he would maintain Hawaii’s indoor mask mandate at least through March 25, and would be evaluating whether to lift it after that. Hawaii is last state in the nation with a statewide mandate in effect.

The governor said the state Department of Health will review the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before he decides, Ige said.

Ige said he wants to make sure that public schools will be able to continue with in-person learning. He said more people will be traveling as spring break comes, which could increase the presence of the coronavirus at schools.

“The pandemic is not over. Tragically, we continue to see those that we know and love continue to suffer from COVID-19,” he said.

The governor said he was proud of how the community responded the pandemic.

“It is about the people, place and culture of all of us here, coming from diverse backgrounds but always understanding that there is a bigger reason to be willing to sacrifice individual needs to benefit the community,” Ige said. “And over and over again, we were willing to do that.”

Ige’s announcement came one day after Mayor Mitch Roth announced the immediate end of all countywide COVID restrictions, most notably the restrictions on indoor and outdoor gathering sizes.

Ross Birch, Executive Director for the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, said the end of county restrictions will likely have a more immediate effect on tourism than the end of Safe Travels.

“From a group standpoint, it means that maybe we’ll see more tour groups booking trips to the island,” Birch said.

Currently, Birch said, travel to the Big Island is still 25-30% down from before the pandemic, but that shortfall likely will not be filled until international travel can freely resume.

“I don’t really see a major change happening because of Safe Travels (ending),” Birch said. “What it does is really just make it easier to come here, but there will probably not be too much of an adjustment.”

Despite his announcement, Ige urged residents to remain vigilant, saying that the novel coronavirus remains a threat.

“The pandemic is not over,” Ige said. “Tragically, we continue to see those that we know and love continue to suffer from COVID-19. In the month of February, we reported 143 COVID-related deaths, and each one is a tragic loss to our community. … You do not need an emergency proclamation to take precautions.”

Hawaii Tribune-Herald reporter Michael Brestovansky contributed to this report.

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