Hawaii officials discuss return of travelers, strain on resources

  • A traveler gets a rental car after arriving at the Hilo International Airport on April 21 in Hilo. (Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald file photo)

With the state planning to loosen quarantine restrictions on out-of-state travelers in August, state lawmakers are concerned about an influx of travelers burdening the state’s COVID-19 monitoring systems.

At Monday’s meeting of the House Select Committee of COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness, committee members discussed the potential consequences of a proposed policy for loosening trans-Pacific travel restrictions.

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The proposed policy, which has not yet been finalized, would allow out-of-state travelers to forgo the current mandatory 14-day quarantine if they received a negative COVID-19 test from their home state within three days of arriving in the state. Travelers arriving without such a test would still be required to submit to the two-week quarantine.

While many of the committee members were eager for a policy to allow tourists to return to the state — “the economy won’t move until tourism moves,” said former Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann — others were concerned about the practicality of such a policy while medical resources are strained nationwide.

For example, several committee members pointed out that it can sometimes take more than three days to receive a COVID-19 test, thanks to a limited number of tests and an extremely high volume of people seeking them, and many places only test people who have been recommended by a doctor. Mark Mugiishi, president and CEO of Hawaii Medical Service Association, said the state is in discussions with health partners to make tests more readily available for travelers to Hawaii.

“We’re hoping for a trip to Hawaii to be a reason to get a test,” Mugiishi said.

Hilo Rep. Richard Onishi also warned about what may happen if the state fails to adequately communicate the policy to travelers. If an influx of tourists, unaware of the state’s policy, arrive in Hawaii without a negative COVID-19 test, they would be a substantial burden on the state’s quarantine enforcement apparatus.

“We need to be spending some of that CARES Act money to put the word out to warn people about the quarantine before they get here,” Onishi said.

Chris Tatum, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said HTA is currently drafting communications and public service announcements to inform the world at large about Hawaii’s plans.

The HTA is also holding weekly conference calls with national tourism industry figures to determine the best communication strategies.

Meanwhile, Alan Oshima, the state’s Economic and Community Recovery and Resiliency Navigator, added that the state also will use some federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to increase the state’s testing capacity and hire 300 more contact tracers by the end of July.

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Gov. David Ige said during a Monday livestream that the state is looking into additional enforcement measures to more easily ensure quarantine compliance in the event of an influx of quarantining visitors.

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

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