Hawaii will reduce to 10 days from 14 days the time incoming out of-state travelers must spend in quarantine, senior state officials said Tuesday.

But travelers to Hawaii as well as to most islands will still be able to sidestep the quarantine altogether by passing a COVID-19 test within three days of traveling.

Hawaii Attorney General Clare Connors announced the shortened quarantine during a joint briefing of the Hawaii House Labor and Tourism Committee and the Transportation Committee. She said the 10-day quarantine requirement will be reflected in Gov. David Ige’s next executive order, expected next week.

Attorney General Clare Connors COVID19 press conference.
Attorney General Clare Connors announced the new, 10-day quarantine during a legislative briefing on Tuesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

In a statement, Ige spokeswoman Cindy McMillan confirmed the change but said it will take some time to work out details.

“It will take at least a week to make the technical modifications to the system so it can handle this change,” she said, and added that the administration hasn’t determined an effective date.

The change reflects guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued last week. On Friday, the Hawaii Department of Health announced it was reducing the recommended quarantine period of those who had been exposed to COVID-19 from 14 days to 10 days.

The purpose, the DOH said, was “to improve compliance without significantly increasing the risk of transmission in the community.”

That change was effective immediately, health officials said.

The 14-day quarantine for travelers, including visitors and returning residents, has been central to Hawaii’s response to the virus. Implemented in March, the quarantine, combined with stay-at-home orders, is credited with helping to reduce the statewide count of new cases to just a few a day for the month of May.

But as Hawaii’s economy opened to residents over the summer, cases began to spiral out of control starting in June and peaking in August, with the state posting 200 to 300 new cases or more for several days. It was only after another shutdown of the local economy in August that cases subsided enough that Ige could eventually announce a plan to let travelers forgo the quarantine by testing negative for COVID-19 before traveling to Hawaii.

Statewide, Hawaii has had more than 500,000 travelers since that program began on Oct. 15. And while the state hasn’t had the spike in cases some feared, the island of Kauai opted out of the program after cases there rose from virtually none to a seven-day average of as many as three new cases a day. Still, many view the program as a success.

Over the summer, before the pre-travel testing program went into effect, travelers arriving at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu were required to sign paperwork agreeing to the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine order. Claire Caulfield/Civil Beat/2020

“I think the program was needed in order for us to begin to welcome people back to Hawaii,” Rep. Richard Onishi, chair of the labor and tourism committee, said.

Based on the numbers of visitors and relatively low case counts, Onishi said, the program has been a success. But Onishi joined a growing chorus of voices calling to modify the program, possibly by requiring travelers to take a second test upon arrival. There was no indication Tuesday when, if at all, that might happen.

“It’s been a real positive,” Onishi said. “We just need to tweak the program so that it protects the people of Hawaii and protects the visitors.”

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