$90M will be used for COVID-19 screenings at Hawaii’s airports

  • Chris Todd

  • Lorraine Inouye

The state Legislature on Friday announced it will appropriate $90 million for COVID-19 screening efforts in Hawaii’s major airports, including those on the Big Island.

The funding will be used for thermal screening systems, security protocols, web-based verification applications, traveler verification rooms, swab and testing facilities, as well as a service contract to ramp up testing.

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A Senate spokesman said the allocation comes from Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds legislators had put in the state’s “rainy day fund.”

State Rep. Chris Todd of Hilo, a member of the House Finance Committee, said that for the economy to have any semblance of normalcy, two steps are necessary.

“One part of that is ensuring, if and when we do reopen for tourism, that it’s done in a way that preserves public safety,” he said. “… This (funding) will help with that.”

Secondly, the state needs to restore public confidence in tourism, both for visitors who see Hawaii as a destination, and for residents, Todd said.

Todd also said it’s important to realize this isn’t the only initiative underway to combat COVID-19. There also will be ongoing federal and county efforts to address the virus.

What’s being done with airport screenings, contact tracing, and what state, federal and county governments are doing in terms of public awareness is “about as sound of a plan we can come up with, within reason,” he said.

“This investment in airport screening protocols will help us reopen tourism in the safest possible manner, screening all travelers and verifying their pre-testing information,” House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke said in a news release. “Because the U.S. Senate has not passed the HEROES Act, we are substituting federal funding from the existing CARES Act in order to move forward with this critical priority.”

Screening systems will be installed in Hilo International Airport and Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport on the Big Island, Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, Kahului Airport on Maui and Lihue Airport on Kauai.

According to the news release, thermal screening cameras will be installed at all gates to screen disembarking passengers for fevers over 100.4 degrees.

A facial image tracking system and monitoring control rooms installed through the terminals will track a suspected passenger until they can be intercepted for further screening.

The cost will be $18.5 million, with an additional $17.5 million for a 10-year maintenance program.

Rooms to verify arriving passenger information will be constructed for $5 million, and a web-based application will be developed for departing passenger health forms and arriving passenger information for another $4 million.

An additional $23 million will be appropriated for labor.

Another $5 million will be spent to build COVID-19 testing facilities.

Finally, $17 million will be used for maintenance contracts, labor and health professionals to perform the COVID-19 tests.

State Sen. Lorraine Inouye of Hilo, who is chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said it will be challenging to create space for these protocols within the existing Honolulu airport.

Previously approved modernization work currently underway at the Hilo airport will make the new safety upgrades difficult there as well, she said. But the work is necessary.

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“This is going to be very challenging to do, but it must happen. … We’re committed to making sure … Hawaii is a safe place, and in order for us to be a safe place now that we’re increasing the arrivals on our islands, we need to do this.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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