UH proposal calls for strict preflight screening of out-of-state passengers

  • KIM

  • In this Associated Press file photo from April, a woman walks on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. A proposal by University of Hawaii researchers recommends using point-of-departure COVID-19 testing as a way to revive the tourism industry.

The University of Hawaii is proposing a way to allow for the reopening of out-of-state travel to Hawaii while ensuring minimal spread of COVID-19 from tourists.

In a brief published Tuesday by the UH Economic Research Organization, researchers propose that further local transmission of the coronavirus can be effectively limited by screening passengers for the virus in their departure city before allowing them to travel to the state.

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The paper, titled “Prevention of Travel-related Reintroduction of COVID-19 Infection in the State of Hawaii,” indicates implementing strict pre-flight tests can reduce the number of monthly infections to a fraction of a percent.

The paper proposes two pre-boarding tests. The first, which would screen passengers for high temperatures and COVID-19 symptoms, would be able to catch about one-third of infectious passengers before they board. The addition of the second test, which would specifically screen for COVID-19, could remove 80% to 90% of all infectious passengers.

“If tourism resumes with 6,000 visitors arriving daily who are only screened for temperature and symptoms, we estimate this will lead to 750 additional active infections present in our community each month among visitors and residents,” the paper reads. “Adding the second RT-PCR screen reduces additional active infections each month to 150 people.”

The paper did not explain what agency would enforce such testing procedures.

Under this model, the paper claims, the state would be able to eliminate the need for the mandatory 14-day quarantine for arriving visitors while still reopening its tourist economy.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said similar models are “something that we’re all thinking about” in the county and state governments, but can be difficult to control.

“The question is, how do you implement it?” Kim said. “Control of these tests would be in the hands of other places.”

As an example, Kim pointed to California, from where a significant portion of Hawaii-bound flights depart. Compared to Hawaii, Kim said, California remains in a “tremendously dangerous” situation, recording 2,170 new COVID-19 cases on Monday alone.

There have been 4,697 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in California, nearly seven times the number of confirmed cases in Hawaii.

Because of this, Kim said it might be premature to leave COVID screening for Hawaii arrivals in the hands of places currently far more ravaged by the pandemic than Hawaii.

Instead, Kim said, Gov. David Ige is considering first opening travel from places where the disease is more controlled, such as Australia, New Zealand or Japan.

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“We’re not in a race with anybody right now,” Kim said. “The people of Hawaii should feel proud of how we’ve done. I think we’re the envy of the rest of the states.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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