Hawaii’s 14-day quarantine order for trans-Pacific arrivals will no longer be required for travelers who can produce a valid negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of their travel.
The option for travelers to avoid quarantine goes into effect Oct. 15.
The current mandatory quarantine for all trans-Pacific travelers was put into effect in March. It essentially shut down Hawaii’s tourism industry, which, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, attracted 10 million annual visitors and accounted for nearly 20% of non-farm jobs, or about 123,000 positions statewide.
State officials announced Wednesday a lifting of Hawaiis 14-day required quarantine for trans-Pacific travelers if they test negative for COVID-19 three days before their departure to Hawaii.
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Gov. David Ige said the state has agreements in place to facilitate the pre-travel testing program with CVS and Kaiser Permanente. He said the state plans to announce new testing partners in the coming weeks.
“I want to emphasize that this pre-travel testing will allow us to add a greater element of safety for travel into our state,” Ige said.
Alaska implemented a similar program in early June, in which it removed its quarantine for those who show negative test results.
The implementation of Hawaii’s plan, which is still under development, is being led by Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is currently isolating himself at home in a bedroom after he tested positive last week for COVID-19.
Qualifying tests must be nucleic acid amplification tests, also known as NAAT. If test results are not available at a travelers’ time of arrival to Hawaii, that person will have to remain in quarantine until they get their test results. Only after they receive a verified negative test result will they be released from quarantine.
Travelers will be responsible for the cost of their test, which must be taken within 72-hours of the departure of their Hawaii-bound flight. The cost of a test ranges between $120 and $140, according to Green. Tests will not be available at the airport.
“The technology of testing is rapidly evolving,” Green said. “So as cheaper, quicker tests become available … we’ll work with DOH, DOT, airports, health care, people everywhere to use those tests also. So this will continuously improve and get easier and easier.”
The governor announced the planned reopening of the state’s tourism industry at the same time that Oahu residents are undergoing the third week of a stay-at-home order and residents statewide are being ordered to quarantine when traveling interisland. The announcement also comes at a time when public officials are facing tremendous pressure from tourism industry leaders and business owners, many of whom are struggling to stay in business.
“It definitely provides an economic opportunity for our state when so many people are suffering,” Green said of the planned pre-travel testing program launch. “I worry about the long term impacts of economic distress and that impact this had on our people when they can’t afford their homes as easily or groceries or health care.”
On Monday, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell questioned the efficacy of the tedious-to-enforce 14-day quarantine for incoming visitors and said he has encouraged Ige to get the pre-travel program up and running as soon as possible. Unveiled in June, the program was originally slated to launch on Aug. 1.
Right now people are coming into Oahu, sometimes in the thousands per day, all agreeing to quarantine, Caldwell said at a press conference. But theres no guarantee they are quarantining. And it becomes increasingly hard to enforce against quarantine breakers.
A pre-travel test program, knowing more people are tested and proven to be shown negative, protects all of us and its a program I would like to see start sooner rather than later.
Dr. Libby Char, who stepped into her role as the acting director of the Hawaii Health Department on Wednesday, acknowledged that state health regulators need to repair a breach in public trust developed over the course of the pandemic.
“I will work to improve the public trust in the Department of Health, understanding that trust must be earned,” Char said. “We need to work more closely with our medical and public health experts who can help to advise us. We need to share information to help inform and educate each other so we can take appropriate actions.”
The state now has 256 contact tracers statewide, according to officials.
Hawaii National Guard Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, a leader in the states response to the COVID-19 pandemic as the head of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said launching the pre-travel testing program will require increased contact tracing and testing capacity and efficiency and careful monitoring of local hospital capacity.
Ige said the state has a plan to increase the local testing capacity in the islands, which he said is critical to the state’s public health response.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.