Travelers flying into Hawaii will need a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival to bypass the state’s required 14-day quarantine, Gov. David Ige said Thursday.

The new policy tweaks the previous one, which let travelers who hadn’t gotten test results upon arrival go into quarantine for a short time but get out when the test results came in. Now, in brief, travelers must have a test result before they depart for Hawaii or they’ll be stuck in quarantine for two weeks.

The rule applies to anyone flying into Hawaii, including tourists, returning residents, military personnel and people relocating to the islands.

Lieutenant Governor Josh Green looks on with Governor David Ige in foreground, during the first day of lifting of a mandatory 14-day quarantine if arriving transpacific travelers received a negative COVID-19 test prior to arriving to Honolulu at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport during COVID-19 pandemic. October 15, 2020
Lt. Gov. Josh Green, left, joined Gov. David Ige in October to announce the launch of the state’s Safe Travels program. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

According to Ige, at least 44 travelers who departed without a test result got a positive result upon arrival or within a few days.

“It’s not a large number, but it’s enough to change the policy,” Ige said.

In the scheme of things, it’s a tiny fraction of all who have participated in the pre-travel testing regime, which the state calls the Safe Travels program. Since the program began Oct. 15, the state has had about 7,000 to 9,000 daily arrivals, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Altogether, according to Lt. Gov. Josh Green, some 270,000 travelers have been tested under the program, including about 86,000 residents. Of those, approximately 243,000 were exempted from quarantine.

Ige portrayed the program as a success that has allowed Hawaii to open its vital tourism economy while keeping its COVID-19 case count from rapidly escalating. Cases surged in August, when the state was still closed to travelers, as cases spread among residents. The concern was that cases would surge again when Hawaii reopened to tourism, but that has not happened.

According to the Hawaii Data Collaborative, the seven-day moving average of new cases each day in Hawaii was 85.7, which Ige said gives Hawaii the lowest rate of infection in the U.S. per capita.

Ige used the occasion to announce Hawaii would open its Safe Travels program to Canada, a key Hawaii market, and he had senior executives from Air Canada and WestJet there to laud the prospect of Canadian snowbirds being able to head to Hawaii for the winter.

But all of the seemingly good news was dampened by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who held a press conference at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport earlier Thursday.

Caldwell preemptively attacked Ige’s surveillance testing program — essentially a second test for a sample of travelers – which is meant to help determine how many infected people are slipping through the cracks.

Caldwell said the surveillance screening program was not what the state had promised, and discussed possibly requiring a second test for travelers to Oahu. In October, as the state was rolling out Safe Travels, the Honolulu City Council passed a resolution calling for a two-test regime. Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim had imposed a two-test program on the Big Island, and Kauai County Mayor Derek Kawakami has also pursued such a program.

Green said surveillance testing shows that for every 1,000 travelers who make it to Hawaii, about 1.6 are infected.

Green Encourages Caldwell To Help Gather Data

Caldwell said Thursday that he had gone along with the one-test plan based on a promise that the state would set up a robust surveillance testing program. That hasn’t happened, he said.

This is not a scientific study of surveillance test results that tell me, as the mayor, what kind of risk we’re taking on,” Caldwell said.

“We just want the information to protect the public health and safety of the million residents of this island,” he added. “I think it’s a fair thing to ask and we’re not getting it.”

Green defended the study.

“He has a fundamental misunderstanding of what this data is,” Green said.

“If the mayor of Honolulu was giving us more data like the mayor of the Big Island, we would appreciate it,” Green said. “But he hasn’t done anything. He has sat back and criticized rather than doing more testing.”

Civil Beat reporter Christina Jedra contributed to this article.

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