Starting Monday, Hawaii and Kauai county residents 16 and older will be invited to make COVID-19 vaccine appointments, marking a major milestone in the vaccine rollout.

The move comes days after Department of Health Director Dr. Libby Char announced the department was shifting vaccine rollout discretion to county officials so they can expand eligibility pools at their own pace.

Dr. Janet Berreman, Kauai’s district health officer, said there has been “strong interest” in the vaccine on Kauai.

“We are pleased that Dr. Char has given neighbor islands the flexibility to proceed with expanding eligibility,” she told Civil Beat.

Pharmacist Davis Zheng gives a patient the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Craigside Place carehome vaccinations.
Kauai and Hawaii counties are widening the COVID-19 vaccine eligibility pool since they got permission from state health officials on Tuesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Lanai and Molokai islands were the first to open vaccine eligibility to 16-and-older populations, in part due to their smaller populations.

Overall, vaccine allocation to Hawaii is currently on the rise, with a record 120,000 doses expected to arrive in the islands next week, according to Healthcare Association of Hawaii President and CEO Hilton Raethel.

But a quality control issue that sabotaged 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a Baltimore manufacturer could delay some vaccine shipments to Hawaii this month and next, he said.

Latest COVID-19 Numbers

“There is a possibility that Hawaii will get less Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of this error,” he told Civil Beat, although he said it is not certain. More Johnson & Johnson supply could come from an Indiana-based manufacturer or even the Netherlands to make up for the loss, he said.

Nearly 624,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to Hawaii residents to date, and nearly a third of the state’s population has received at least one dose.

Sen. Brian Schatz, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced Friday that the state’s vaccination effort overall is getting a financial boost from the federal government. The Hawaii Department of Health will receive nearly $33 million for its COVID-19 vaccine campaign, which will help to cover the costs of staff, site coordination and community outreach, he said.

“Vaccination is the light at the end of the tunnel of this pandemic, and this new money will help us get there even faster,” he said in a statement.

As Tourism Ramps Up, Islands Shift Testing Rules

Amid the vaccine rollout, more visitors are flying to the islands.

Of the near 20,000 arrivals on Wednesday, 14,000 indicated they were coming to Hawaii for vacation and 1,500 were returning residents, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. That’s up from fewer than 3,000 arriving passengers in early October, just as tourism began to reopen.

Passengers say goodbye to loved ones on the departure level at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic. April 1, 2021
Hawaii visitor numbers are on the rise compared to last year. On Thursday, Daniel K. Inouye International Airport’s departures terminal was bustling. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

All Hawaii-bound travelers are required to take a COVID-19 test before they leave if they want to skip the state’s mandatory 10-day quarantine. But rules and programs have evolved and differ depending on the county.

As announced in early March, Kauai is lifting some travel restrictions by rejoining the state’s pre-travel testing program, which allows travelers to bypass a strict quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19.

The Garden Island had opted out of the Safe Travels program in December when COVID-19 cases were on the rise. Instead, its protocol required travelers to either quarantine for 10 days or stay in “resort bubbles” and take a second COVID-19 test three days after they arrived.

Kauai has seen among the lowest rates of infection for months, and has had among the fewest in the state since the beginning of the pandemic. The county reported four new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the highest since early January.

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami told KHON2 News the loosening of rules for travelers is intended to coincide with the vaccine rollout, and if cases spike again, some county rules may adjust.

Maui Pushes For More Testing Amid Clusters

Maui County continues to see the sharpest increase in COVID-19 activity this month, with an average of 30 new cases daily in the last week.

A major cluster associated with King’s Cathedral in Kahului has contributed to other strings of infection on the island at a school and hotel, state health officials said this week.

DOH disease investigators reported Thursday in their weekly report that they continue to monitor a Maui cluster associated with an unnamed cleaning service company that has affected a total of 42 people. Clusters have also been identified recently in the tourism industry, workplaces and a food supplier on Maui. Officials continue to monitor an outbreak at Maui Community Correctional Center.

A screenshot from the Department of Health illustrates the growth in COVID-19 cases on Maui, as of March 31. Department of Health

In response to the spike in cases, Mayor Mike Victorino is requesting the governor’s approval to make post-travel testing mandatory for visitors, KHON2 News reported.

Maui County has offered voluntary post-arrival COVID-19 tests since last year, but if approved, the new measure would make it mandatory, in addition to the pre-flight test already required by the state. Victorino also hopes to start a pilot vaccination passport program.

Meanwhile, Big Island officials said the testing of travelers after they arrive on Hawaii island will be rolled back by 50%, West Hawaii Today reported. Premier Medical Group was contracted to test approximately 200,000 Big Island travelers since October, fewer than 200 of whom turned out to be positive for COVID-19. In late March, fewer than 1% of all tests detected COVID-19 infections among 3,000 people tested, according to West Hawaii Today.

In January, the state Department of Health and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency provided rapid tests for the Big Island program but later backtracked, claiming it was not an appropriate use of the state stockpile.

Statewide, Hawaii has documented an average of 100 new COVID-19 cases daily this week, with 1.9% coming back positive. That daily average case rate rose by 50% compared to two weeks ago.

Like Maui, Oahu is also experiencing an uptick in cases in recent weeks. Honolulu had an average of 59 new cases daily this week, up by nearly 60% compared to the average recorded last month.

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