Gov. David Ige announced Wednesday plans to reopen Hawaii to more visitors, months after the COVID-19 pandemic prompted mandatory two-week quarantines for those arriving from out of state.
“Today, I’m announcing that beginning Aug. 1, we will implement a pre-travel testing program for travelers to Hawaii as an alternative to the 14-day mandatory quarantine,” Ige said during a press conference in Honolulu.
Mandatory quarantines for out-of-state arrivals began March 26, and mandatory quarantines for interisland travelers started April 1. The interisland quarantine was lifted June 16.
Travelers who have a valid and negative COVID-19 test prior to arrival will not be subject to the mandatory quarantine, but the quarantine will remain in place for those who choose to forego testing.
While the test requirements are still being determined, Ige said the state is looking at requiring the tests within 72 hours of boarding. He said testing visitors upon arrival doesn’t work for Hawaii and would take testing capacity away from the community.
The state Department of Health is still developing the program but anticipates requiring a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved test from a certified laboratory.
Travelers will have to provide printed or emailed pre-test certification as evidence of a negative test result.
Ige said the mandatory quarantine measure has been one of the most effective measures in helping the state control the spread of COVID-19.
“The health of our community continues to be our primary focus and priority,” Ige said. “This multi-layered health screening process allows travelers to return and allows us to continue to protect the health and the safety of our community.”
Temperature checks and screenings will continue, he said, and anyone with a fever of 100.4 or those experiencing other symptoms will have to go through a secondary screening process upon arrival. Ige said travelers also must fill out the mandatory state health form.
The ongoing pandemic has had tremendous impact on Hawaii’s economy, Ige said.
“Now is the time to work together as a community to ensure our residents and local businesses can safely return to a larger volume of travelers.”
Lt. Gov. Josh Green said a pre-test is not perfect, but it will minimize the risk that COVID-19 will be imported into Hawaii.
The number of hospitalizations, and the percentage of ventilators and intensive care unit beds currently in use, are “utterly low” compared to other states, which gives Hawaii the opportunity to begin to reopen the state to travelers, he said.
Green said many places around the world are doing similar programs, and Alaska in particular has been guiding Hawaii.
“We’ve seen a lot of their results,” he said. “We can see how it can work and how it can be improved.”
It’s not a silver bullet, Green said.
“But it is another part of the multi-layered system the Department of Health has come up with to complement comprehensive tracing capacity … to complement screening people for temperatures and the thermal screening … and to be able to trace people constantly. That will make the difference.”
Green said protocols are being developed for Hawaii residents who might travel out of state for short trips.
“Because it would not be sensible, if someone just goes for two days to the mainland, (to) have them get a test immediately at the airport or the day they land,” he said.
Alaska, for example, has asked its residents to get tested three or four days after returning and to lay low until they receive a negative test result.
Ige also said the state has been working with private sector partners to administer tests to those who request it for travel purposes, and Green said some states are offering tests to all their residents. Green said CVS is one of the companies Hawaii is working with to provide pre-testing on the mainland.
Mayor Harry Kim said he told Ige on Wednesday he decided to support the lifting of the quarantine for out-of-state arrivals after the governor agreed to use a geographic information system developed by Hawaii County Civil Defense to monitor incoming passengers from out of state.
The system is a digitized data base that will use information from the mandatory travel forms, Kim said.
“We had no real-time data, nobody did … as far as who they are, where they’re staying, dates, etc.,” Kim said.
He added that in the beginning of the quarantine, it took the Hawaii Tourism Authority two to three days to get information about visitors to local police, who were given the responsibility to enforce the quarantine.
“I told the governor that we, meaning Hawaii County, would not support it until we had a comprehensive system in regards to the sharing of information, real-time, with everybody coordinated and equipped and ready, at every single airport, for every single passenger.”
Kim said he wanted the system in place by July 1 so authorities “could get the bugs out” by Aug. 1, and said Ige agreed.
“The airlines had already indicated that they were really going to ramp up the planes coming to the Big Island, and I said we have to use this month to really perfect this system and train people,” Kim said.
The state last week began installing facial recognition software, along with thermal scanners, at airports in order to better monitor travelers entering the state.
When asked about a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii that expressed concern about the planned use of facial recognition software, Ige said he didn’t have a chance to review the letter but is aware of concerns regarding the use of the technology.
However, Ige said no one would have any access to data contained within the system, and while faces would be recognized, no identification would be tied into the system.
If someone has a temperature above 100.4 degrees, the face would be captured as the traveler walks through the airport and would be identified at a checkpoint for a secondary screening, Ige explained.
At no time is identification available within the system, and the image will only retained for 30 minutes.
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.