With the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations dropping sharply, Hawaii is unlikely to reach the 60% threshold required to lift testing and quarantine requirements for all fully inoculated travelers from the mainland by the July 4 weekend, Gov. David Ige said Tuesday.

The Aloha State has faced pressure to ease strict rules for entry aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus as its vital tourism industry rebounds and the pandemic ebbs. After months of empty planes, tens of thousands of visitors have begun arriving from the mainland despite continued concerns over more contagious coronavirus variants.

The state reopened for travel in November but required all travelers to test negative for COVID-19 via an approved lab and within 72 hours of their final flight in order to avoid an otherwise mandatory 10-day quarantine.

Scores of travelers check into interisland and domestic US flights at the Hawaiian Airlines check in area located at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green has called for the state to change its travel requirements ahead of the July 4 holiday, but the governor says that is unlikely to happen. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

On June 15, Ige lifted travel restrictions for all interisland travel and allowed people who can prove they were vaccinated in Hawaii to skip the test when traveling from the mainland.

However, he said the vaccination exception wouldn’t be extended to those vaccinated in other states until 60% of Hawaii’s population has received a shot.

The figure stood at 57% on Tuesday.

Ige said the number of people getting vaccinated in June has dropped by half compared with the previous month, suggesting the state would not reach that benchmark in time for the holiday weekend.

“I looked at the data and I don’t believe that we’ll cross 60% prior to the Fourth of July weekend,” he said Tuesday in an interview with the Civil Beat Editorial Board.

His comments came after Lt. Gov. Josh Green urged the governor to announce that the testing requirement would end on July 1 to avoid “chaos at the airports” since Hawaii is expecting the arrival of 30,000 visitors per day for the holiday weekend.

The airport in Honolulu has seen long lines and confusion over the process since tourists began returning to the islands en masse, with many passengers unable to bypass the quarantine due to misunderstandings over the rules, which are laid out on the state’s Safe Travels website.

“It’s just really important that Hawaii not get a black eye by being unclear,” Green told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Ige disagreed, saying the rules were clear and the state has improved its relationship with the airlines to ensure passengers are well informed about the entry requirements.

“They know what our requirements are and they are fully informing the travelers so I believe there’s absolutely no confusion and no possibility for chaos, because … it’s the same rules, and we are proceeding on that basis,” he said.

“So you know I don’t know where that chaos would be coming from, except that it would come from the lieutenant governor,” Ige said.

When asked about the remarks later Tuesday, Green said his main concern was that travelers would be confused by conflicting figures on federal and state websites and other sources. He said his office has heard from hundreds of travelers who were worried they would end up in quarantine.

“I’m raising these issues because people are traveling with their families for the holidays and committing a lot of their savings to come to Hawaii, so if they end up in quarantine because we weren’t crystal clear about our policy it isn’t fair to them,” he said in an interview.

“The governor announced 60% as the threshold to use vaccine cards to travel for visitors,” he added. “I am concerned in the absence of a clear announced date, they could easily check the CDC website or any number of other sources and be confused.”

The governor offered a glimmer of hope, saying that Hawaii was making progress on obtaining software that would allow it to verify vaccination records from other states.

“We are very close to being able to verify vaccines in other states,” he said, singling out California and other unspecified West Coast states. “We will roll that out when it works, and then obviously, then we would recognize vaccinations from those states as well, and that could be ahead of this 60% if we can get it to work.”

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