Technology comes naturally to me, so using Hawaii’s Safe Travels website, which allows travelers with negative COVID-19 test results to avoid the state’s 14-day quarantine requirement, wasn’t that big of a deal.

Honestly, I welcome any chance to skip through a bureaucratic process digitally, especially when it involves airports and traveling because I go back and forth between Oahu and Kauai a lot.

The process went like this: Click through every trusted partner website to see what can be covered by insurance. Nothing there for me. No available dates for one provider but another provider had time. Signed up for new accounts online for the state and the trusted clinical lab that did my COVID-19 test. Verified my identity so I could receive my test results online in a secure manner. Saved the PDF and re-uploaded it to the Safe Travels website for verification. Got the QR code via email, and saved it for arrival at the airport.

It’s pretty involved and at times pretty confusing. So I wasn’t surprised that 40% of travelers in the first week after the program began Oct. 15 showed up with the wrong kind of test results. Or that the airport check-out process was backlogged because many forms had to be read manually by airport agents.

Glitches and problems are a normal part of any new program, especially when we’re talking about government-made apps, I’ve come to realize. But it’s one thing to know that and another to see it in action.

When I landed in Lihue on a Friday evening, I joined a line of about a hundred people from what I’m guessing was a couple of different flights including my own. That line, for the next 30 minutes or so, would not budge at all.

There seemed to be only three officers — National Guard or Kauai Police Department — checking people out on their iPads.

Dozens of travelers in line clutched their paper results in their hands, which made me think a fair number of people didn’t know how to, or couldn’t, get the PDF to upload onto the Safe Travels website. Glitch? Those paper forms, of course, had to be read manually, and undoubtedly slowed things down.

Some people were in line filling out forms. What forms, though? I’m not sure. Were they forms for people choosing to quarantine instead? I asked one of the airport staff who didn’t seem to know.

Arriving passengers at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport are screened if they have pre-travel testing required to avoid the 14-day traveler quarantine. Tests are only accepted from trusted testing and travel partners. October 15, 2020
These passengers arriving at Daniel K. International Airport on Oahu seem just as crowded and confused as my people did when we stood in line on Kauai for more than hour recently. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The woman in front of me said she was choosing to quarantine, but I never ended up seeing what she had to do, because I was busy getting questioned by a police officer and a National Guardsman at the same time. Also, why were we in the same line?

So. Much. Confusion.

At some point, a National Guardsman walked by, asking out loud, “Does everyone have their QR code?”

“What’s a QR code?”somebody yelled. Problem?

By the time I actually reached someone with an iPad who scanned my QR code, it had been about an hour since I landed in Lihue. Normally it takes about 5 minutes from the time you get off the plane til you’re out the door.

Well, not this time.

After scanning the QR code, the National Guardsman asked to see my test result form. I literally blurted out, “But why?”

The program is designed to show “COVID-19 negative” if the result was indeed negative and from a trusted partner, both of which were true in my case.

Still, I pulled the PDF up from my smartphone files. But what if people don’t know how to do this? Quarantine? Detention? Glitch?

I’m trying to imagine my mother, who knows how to access her email and use a couple of messenger apps on her phone, doing all of this.


Then I try to imagine me trying to explain to her how to go through this process.

Let’s just say … nope. Chances are that she’d end up showing up at the airport with the wrong form and be that old lady in line asking what a QR code is.

The goal is to make sure people coming to the islands don’t have COVID-19. Maybe there’s a way to do that that’s a little less confusing for the non-techies among us.

The barrier to coming to Hawaii should be COVID-19, not knowing how to upload a PDF.

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