This weekend, Alaska will implement a revised mandate for interstate and international travelers: those who test negative for COVID-19 within three days of boarding a plane to the state will be able to waive the state’s 14-day quarantine requirement.

Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green wants Hawaii to consider adopting similar strategies to keep tabs on the prevalence of the disease among air passengers traveling in and out of the Hawaiian Islands.

Hawaii’s current self-quarantine mandate for travelers flying within the state is scheduled to be lifted June 16. The mandatory 14-day quarantine for incoming travelers from outside of the state is still in effect.

Hawaiian Airlines arrives at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.
The mandatory 14-day quarantine for interisland travelers will be lifted June 16. Officials are discussing what measures to put in place before making any changes to the quarantine on travelers from overseas and the mainland. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Green is drafting a proposal that suggests air travelers be selected at random for a free COVID-19 test, and participation would be voluntary. Every 20th passenger or so would be selected for a test, and participants would receive a small reward, such as coupons to use during their stay.

Green says it is one of many concepts under discussion, and it would serve as an extension of plans already underway by the state health department to revise the questionnaire for passengers and implement thermal scanning at the airport.

“The concern is that their symptoms are so mild that they don’t even register, or that we wouldn’t be able to catch those cases even if they submitted the form we give them, because if they had symptoms recently, they might say no,” said Green.

“Random testing would be able to help us with information to know how much additional risk we have and how much surveillance we need to do, because we all know a large percentage of people who get coronavirus are asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic.”

In a statement sent by email, Gov. David Ige said Thursday that he is working with Green and the health department to “explore ways to improve and increase surveillance and testing.”

“This could be a way to gather more data and information about those arriving in the islands,” Ige said of Green’s latest proposal.

Officials from the Department of Health declined to comment.

Currently, all arriving passengers are subject to a temperature check screening, and if they have a fever at or above 100.4 degrees or show COVID-19-like symptoms, they are pulled aside by on-site airport paramedics for a nasal swab collection that is later sent to the Department of Health’s State Laboratories Division.

The Hawaii National Guard has been conducting temperature checks of passengers at the airport since April 6.

As of mid-May, only a dozen people were identified to have fevers or symptoms by current screening measures. One person did test positive for COVID-19, according to Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Sakahara.

Temperature checks are currently conducted at Hawaii airports. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Under state law, it would not be legal for the state to force people to be tested, Green said.

“I still feel that if it’s possible to get pre-travel testing, that’s ideal. It’s just complicated to get people to take the time to get the test,” he said.

As the number of new cases of COVID-19 has dwindled in Hawaii, more discussions are underway about how to prepare to reopen the economy and bring back tourism, one of the state’s largest industries.

“The plan is to have a much more comprehensive plan in place before June 16 and to make sure it’s working well so we can determine when it’s safe to open up more broadly,” Green said.

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