Two weeks before Hawaii reopens to tourists from outside the state, details of the program designed to keep travelers and residents safe is coming into clearer view, including the types of tests that travelers can take to sidestep Hawaii’s 14-day quarantine and companies Hawaii is partnering with to administer the tests.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, Hawaii’s COVID-19 Liaison, said more details will come in another update on Tuesday. That could include protocols for interisland travel, which haven’t been worked out. In the meantime, Green laid out several specifics.

Perhaps most critical, Green said, is that travelers should know the type of tests Hawaii will accept and must take the test no more than 72 hours before getting on the plane to Hawaii – a point Green made several times during an hour-long presentation.

“I’m saying it a lot because I want people to know: it’s that 72-hour window,” Green said.

Lt Governor Josh Green discusses COVID-19 testing with partners before passengers are allowed to arrive in Hawaii from October 15, 2020
Lt Gov. Josh Green discusses Hawaii’s COVID-19 pre-travel testing program on Thursday. The state is trying to fine tune the program before it launches on Oct. 15. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

He also stressed that only an FDA-authorized nucleic acid amplification test from a certified lab will be accepted as proof that a tourist or returning resident is safe enough to skip Hawaii’s 14-day quarantine for incoming passengers.

According to the FDA, the so-called NAAT tests detect whether there’s any of the virus’s genetic material in a sample taken from the patient’s nose or throat. These tests are considered more sensitive than antigen tests, which shows if the person has an active infection, and antibody tests, which show if the person has had the virus in the past.

“If they get an antigen test it will not count,” he said. “If they get an antibody test, it will not count.”

The good news for travelers, Green said, is that the state has entered partnerships with Walgreen’s and CVS drugstores to offer tests to travelers, as well as Kaiser Permanente, the Oakland, California, health care company that has a large footprint in the West Coast states that are Hawaii’s prime domestic market.

In addition, Green said, Hawaiian, United, American and Alaska airlines are stepping up to give Hawaii-approved tests to passengers in major markets, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago.

“A lot of partners will be doing it at or near the airport,” he said.

Some 99% of the tests administered by the airlines will be tests that produce results in 15 minutes or so, Green said.

This makes it unlikely that passengers who take those tests will still be waiting for results when they land in Hawaii. Although passengers might pay more for the tests, Green said the trade-off will be more convenience.

Green also said that among the tests Hawaii will accept is the Abbot ID NOW test, a system that doctors’ offices have widely used for years for fast tests for things like strep throat and the flu, which Abbott has adapted for COVID-19.

Masked Hawaiian Airlines stewardess cruises through the cabin which feature 3 people in the row due to COVID-19 pandemic. 2020
Hawaiian Airlines on Thursday announced a test travelers can take from home during a video call with a testing supervisor. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Green said the tests Hawaii accepts is certain to evolve. For instance, he said, antigen tests might become accurate enough to be OK for Hawaii’s program.

Already, Hawaii has modified its stance against “mail-in” tests done remotely by the traveler and sent to the lab. Green said it is OK to mail in tests, even self-administered at home, if people do the tests through a telehealth call.

Hawaiian Airlines on Thursday announced just such an option. The Honolulu-based carrier began offering travelers visiting or returning to the islands from the mainland a pre-travel COVID-19 test they can take from home to qualify to be exempt from the quarantine.

The saliva tests are administered through Vault Health at a cost of $150. The twist is instead of just taking a sample and mailing it, people take the sample at home with help from a testing supervisor in a video call.

The kit is shipped overnight to Vault’s lab, which is supposed to process and analyze the sample and provide travelers their results electronically within 24 hours.

Green acknowledged some people will slip through the cracks. But he estimated that might be about one per 1,000 travelers. With about 5,000 to 8,000 visitors a day expected initially, versus 30,000 before the pandemic, Green said that amounts to five to eight per day.

Plume of whitewash with Waikiki Beach skyline during a King Tide. High tide was about 4pm today with 3-5 foot waves. The surf today was very occasional which spared Honolulu from major flooding.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green said it’s likely that a small number of  travelers carrying COVID-19 will slip through the cracks, but he said it is worth the risk to stimulate the economy because so many people are suffering. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The upside is the revival of an economy where people are increasingly resorting to free food banks to have enough to eat, Green said.

“This is very, very important because a lot of people are suffering,” Green said.

While some have called for a second round of tests after tourists arrive, along with a shorter period of quarantine, Green said that’s not feasible. Even if Hawaii did have the capacity to test up to 8,000 tourists per day, which he said it doesn’t, Green said he doesn’t think the state has legal authority to mandate a second test.

Finally, he said he doesn’t think many tourists would go for it.

“Almost no one would go to the markets where they require a second test and four days of quarantine or even three days of quarantine,” he said.

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