Hawaii’s 14-day quarantine for trans-Pacific arrivals will no longer be required for travelers who can produce a valid negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of their travel.

The option for travelers to avoid quarantine goes into effect Oct. 15.

The current mandatory quarantine for all trans-Pacific travelers was put into effect in March. It essentially shut down Hawaii’s tourism industry, which, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, attracted 10 million annual visitors and accounted for nearly 20% of non-farm jobs, or about 123,000 positions statewide.

April 1, 2020. Waikiki Beach near the Kapahulu Groin no one due to state orders to shelter at home.
State officials announced Wednesday a lifting of Hawaii’s 14-day required quarantine for trans-Pacific travelers if they test negative for COVID-19 three days before their departure to Hawaii. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Gov. David Ige said the state has agreements in place to facilitate the pre-travel testing program with CVS and Kaiser Permanente. He said the state plans to announce new testing partners in the coming weeks.

“I want to emphasize that this pre-travel testing will allow us to add a greater element of safety for travel into our state,” Ige said.

Alaska implemented a similar program in early June, in which it removed its quarantine for those who show negative test results.

The implementation of Hawaii’s plan, which is still under development, is being led by Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is currently isolating himself at home in a bedroom after he tested positive last week for COVID-19.

Qualifying tests must be nucleic acid amplification tests, also known as NAAT — a molecular test that requires a minimally invasive nasal swab sample or saliva. If test results are not available at a travelers’ time of arrival to Hawaii, that person will have to remain in quarantine until they get their test results. Only after they receive a verified negative test result will they be released from quarantine.

Travelers will be responsible for the cost of their test, which must be taken within 72-hours of the departure of their Hawaii-bound flight. The cost of a test ranges between $120 and $140, according to Green. Tests will not be available at the airport.

The technology of testing is rapidly evolving,” Green said. “So as cheaper, quicker tests become available … we’ll work with DOH, DOT, airports, health care, people everywhere to use those tests also. So this will continuously improve and get easier and easier.”

Chamber of Commerce Hawaii President Sherry Menor-McNamara said businesses are ready to welcome back visitors safely.

“More than half of local businesses reported that they would have to make further cuts or close altogether after the travel reopening was pushed back from August to October 1,” she said in a prepared statement. “Extending the delay even further will only add to this pain. We can’t continue to operate on a policy of shifting the goalposts — October 15 must be the date that sticks.”

Hawaii has delayed the start of its pre-travel testing program several times. It is now slated to launch Oct. 15. Claire Caulfield/Civil Beat/2020

The governor announced the planned reopening of the state’s tourism industry at the same time that Oahu residents are undergoing the third week of a stay-at-home order and residents statewide are being ordered to quarantine when traveling interisland.

The interisland quarantine for anyone arriving on any island other than Oahu continues through Sept. 30, unless terminated or extended by a new emergency proclamation. Ige didn’t have a definitive answer when asked by a reporter about when it will be lifted.

The announcement also comes at a time when public officials are facing tremendous pressure from tourism industry leaders and business owners, many of whom are struggling to stay in business.

“It definitely provides an economic opportunity for our state when so many people are suffering,” Green said of the planned pre-travel testing program launch. “I worry about the long term impacts of economic distress and that impact this had on our people when they can’t afford their homes as easily or groceries or health care.”

The American Hotel Lodging Association has assembled a checklist of minimally acceptable protocols called Safe Stay Hawaii that can help limit the spread of COVID-19 on hotel and resort properties. Every major lodging brand has agreed to adopt the Safe Stay Hawaii guidelines, which include social distancing rules and cleaning regimens for high-touch surfaces.

The guidelines also call on resorts to make sure that guests have an up-to-date and complete understanding of the rules governing public life during the pandemic. There are also protocols on how to notify state health officials about an infected patient and how to support the needs of that guest.

“If we want to get our friends and family back to work, if we want to get the economy roaring again, we all know that every one of us has a kuleana, a responsibility, to make sure that we’re taking care of our own personal health and respecting the social distancing norms and other mechanisms that are in place to keep us safe so that we can safely reopen,” said Kekoa McClellan, Hawaii spokesman for the association.

McClellan said he hopes Hawaii residents will welcome tourists back with aloha — but he asked them to also be vigilant of any behavior that defies social distancing and mask-wearing protocols.

“We’re enjoying a decline in COVID-19 case counts because enforcement works,” he said. “That same level of scrutiny will be applied to our tourists. And there will be 1.4 million additional police officers on the ground in the form of every single one of our residents.”

Dr. Libby Char, who stepped into her role as the acting director of the Hawaii Department of Health on Wednesday, acknowledged that state health regulators need to repair a breach in public trust developed over the course of the pandemic.

“I will work to improve the public trust in the Department of Health, understanding that trust must be earned,” Char said. “We need to work more closely with our medical and public health experts who can help to advise us. We need to share information to help inform and educate each other so we can take appropriate actions.”

The state now has 256 contact tracers statewide, according to officials.

Hawaii National Guard Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, a leader in the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as the head of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said launching the pre-travel testing program will require increased contact tracing and testing capacity and efficiency and careful monitoring of local hospital capacity.

Ige said the state has a plan to increase the local testing capacity in the islands, which he said is critical to the state’s public health response.

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