In what could prove a major blow to Hawaii’s Safe Travels program, Kauai’s mayor has asked to temporarily opt out of the pre-travel testing program that allows trans-Pacific and inter-island passengers to forgo a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said Tuesday that he has asked the governor for permission to opt out of the Safe Travels program on Dec. 1 following a string of new COVID-19 cases on the island linked to travel.

If approved, all travelers to the island, including those from other counties, would have to quarantine. Some exemptions would remain in place, including for health care workers.

Mayor Derek Kawakami, Kauai, Kawakami, Derek Kawakami
Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami has asked to temporarily opt out of the pre-travel testing program after a string of new COVID-19 cases. Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat/2020

“We are facing alarming COVID-19 numbers on our island as well as across the nation,” Kawakami said.

“This is not just a tourist problem. Nearly half of our recent travel cases are Kauai residents who returned home. We know that a single, pre-travel test has not stopped the virus from reaching our island and we are saddened to report our first on-island death.”

Kawakami did not address the potential economic concerns of opting out but said Kauai “needs to take a pause from an influx of travelers and once again gain control of this virus.”

“I will gladly repeal the rule once we achieve this goal,” he added.

Tourism industry leaders and economists have said that it’s vital that the Safe Travels program be easy to navigate and previously raised concerns with the prospect of island-by-island rules.

Kauai’s proposed change came as the state implemented stricter rules for incoming travelers, requiring them to have a negative COVID-19 test result before departing for Hawaii. Before Tuesday, they could travel with pending results and quarantine until a negative test was received.

Kawakami previously sought the governor’s approval to institute a post-travel test. That request has not been approved.

Dr. Janet Berreman, Kauai district health officer, said since the pre-travel testing program launched on Oct. 15 the island has confirmed 58 new COVID-19 cases.

Of those, 27 have been visitors and 21 have been residents. The other 10 cases have been residents who did not have any history of travel.

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