Anyone in Hawaii who has reason to believe they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine for 10 days, rather than 14 days as was previously recommended, Hawaii health officials said Friday.

The change was prompted by recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated earlier this week. Those who are severely ill will likely need to stay home longer than 10 days after their symptoms first appeared, according to the CDC.

The quarantine rules for the state’s Safe Travels program remain the same — travelers who do not provide proof of a negative COVID-19 diagnostic test result will have to quarantine themselves for 14 days.

Hilo Police at exit and quarantine check in at HIlo Airport during COVID-19 pandemic. All arriving passengers were subject to a 14-day mandatory quarantine on Hawaii island. September 23, 2020
Hilo police conduct a quarantine check-in at Hilo Airport in September. Residents and tourists alike are still expected to quarantine for 14 days if they cannot provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to traveling to Hawaii. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

At a state Senate hearing Friday, Dr. Libby Char, the director of the Department of Health, said the new guidance is part of an effort to get more people exposed to the virus to comply with recommendations to self-isolate. It is also intended to help “address mental and emotional issues” that can be caused by prolonged isolation, according to a press release distributed by the department Friday.

The New 10-day Quarantine Guidance from DOH

Char reiterated the department’s official support to amend Hawaii’s Safe Travels program to require a second diagnostic test three to five days after arrival. That test could be an antigen test or a cheaper option than the standard molecular-based test. But making changes to the current policy will be up to the policymakers — the governor, lieutenant governor and county mayors, she said.

“What we’re doing on the medical side is we’re providing guidance for the health care community,” Char said. “On the travel side, it’s the same thing. We’ll make a recommendation, but the ultimate call is not ours. We don’t write the emergency proclamation. We provide guidance and have discussions about it.”

The Safe Travels program currently requires one test for Hawaii-bound travelers within 72 hours of flying to Hawaii if they want to bypass the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine.

The program began on Oct. 15 and was recently amended to clarify that tourists and returning residents need to provide proof of a negative test result prior to arrival and may not skip quarantine if their test results are pending when they arrive.

Char told senators Friday that the department has always recommended that a second diagnostic test for travelers be included as part of the program.

Guidance published by the CDC on Nov. 21 recommends that international travelers take a second COVID-19 test three to five days after their arrival, Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole pointed out at the hearing.

The “deviation” in preferences indicated by county mayors will likely lead to more public confusion, he said.

“To date we have had no agreement from the administration if any of those county proposals would be approved,” he said. “Why can’t we agree and recognize that a two-test framework is necessary and then use the levers of government to figure out how to make that happen?”

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