Lt. Gov. Josh Green is proposing a change to the Safe Travels program he oversees to allow Hawaii travelers to bypass the state’s mandatory 10-day quarantine with proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.

Currently, travelers with a qualifying negative COVID-19 test result in hand can avoid quarantine upon arrival in Hawaii or when flying between the islands through the state’s Safe Travels program.

This option would still exist, but Green wants to add another avenue to dodge quarantine for travelers who have received two doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

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
Hawaii Gov. David Ige has not said whether he supports a proposal to allow vaccinated travelers to bypass the state’s mandatory 10-day quarantine. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

He said he would like to see the proposed policy change implemented sometime in February.

“People will start getting their second shot around the first week of January and that will be happening all across the country,” Green said. “If people do that and are immune, it seems like common sense that we would allow them to travel safely.”

Any change to the state’s travel protocol would require Gov. David Ige’s approval.

Many travelers would not be able to take advantage of such a policy change while vaccine availability is limited. Most Hawaii residents will not have the opportunity to be inoculated until spring or summer, after two doses have been given to first responders and essential workers.

There are still uncertainties about how long the vaccine’s protection lasts. It’s also possible that vaccinated people can carry the virus without symptoms and transmit it to others, scientists say.

“Just because you’re being vaccinated doesn’t mean you’re completely protected,” said Sandra Chang, a professor in the University of Hawaii’s tropical medicine department.

“We still don’t know enough about whether the vaccine protects against what we call asymptomatic infection. You may be infected and not know it and not have any symptoms and still be capable of spreading it to others.”

But Green, who is a medical doctor, said it’s “very unlikely” that removing the quarantine mandate for vaccinated travelers would pose a greater risk of new infections.

“The world will have to move forward,” he said in a text message.

A spokesperson for the Hawaii Health Department did not say whether the department supports the proposal.

Syringes containing Pfizer COVID-19 part 1 vaccination at the Queen’s Medical Center press event vaccinating 5 volunteers. December 15, 2020
Hawaii health regulators expect to receive approximately 86,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna before the end of the year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Hawaii’s Safe Travels program, which launched on Oct. 15, has been a boon for businesses.

The program is intended to allow the state to open up to more travelers and boost the economy while keeping coronavirus cases in check.

state-commissioned study measuring the program’s impact on the spread of the virus in Hawaii found few links to positive cases.

Still, a relatively slight increase in infections aroused some alarm, prompting the state to stop allowing travelers whose test results were delayed until after arrival in Hawaii to bypass quarantine.

The state also allowed Kauai to defect from the program on Dec. 2, reinstating a required quarantine for all travelers to the Garden Island.

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami, who called for the pause, argued that a temporary moratorium of the Safe Travels program was needed to help the island regain control of the virus after Kauai cases rose from less than one per day on average in October before the travel program took effect to a peak seven-day average of 3.3 new cases a day on Nov. 25.

Detected new infections on Kauai have since decreased, but the move sapped the island’s economic momentum.

Kawakami has not said when the island might opt back in.

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