Mayor Harry Kim said Tuesday he thinks the county can provide a second or even a third COVID-19 test to arriving trans-Pacific passengers on the Big Island without draining the state’s “limited amount of test kits.”
Gov. David Ige said Monday that he’s set to roll out his pretesting program Oct. 15, under which travelers from out of state would be exempted from a 14-day quarantine if they tested negative for the virus up to 72 hours before arrival.
But Kim said he told Ige on Monday “a one-test system, Governor, is just not an acceptable risk for Hawaii Island.”
According to Kim, Ige — whom Kim said had given the county mayors permission to opt out of the state’s plan — replied he couldn’t go along with additional testing “because it will put a drain on the minimum amount of test kits available to the state of Hawaii.”
Approximately 2,000 visitors are coming to Hawaii every day, with an estimated 5,000 arrivals a day once the one-test policy goes into effect.
Kim said he and the other three mayors on Tuesday discussed a two-test policy for trans-Pacific travel.
Ige already denied a request by Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami to do its own post-arrival pilot testing program, although Kauai County has acquired 15,000 rapid-testing kits.
Kim said he’s working on his own plan “as fast as I can” to submit to Ige either today or Thursday.
According to Kim, at a minimum he thinks a two-test system — which would supplement the pre-travel test with a second test administered upon arrival to Hawaii — would be acceptable, but he’d prefer requiring a third test, which would be given to travelers who stay on Hawaii Island more than three days.
Kim said that after consulting with experts, he concluded, “That’s the ideal, so that’s what I’m going to shoot for.”
According to the mayor, under his plan, arriving passengers would have to quarantine at a hotel or their lodging of record while awaiting results of the second test.
“Hopefully, we’ll develop a test system that’ll get the results within a day,” he said.
If a third test is OK’d by the governor, those taking it would not be under quarantine but would be required to show up at a testing location to be tested. Consequences for visitors who don’t comply “is a detail that still has to be worked out.”
Kim said Ige rejected Kawakami’s plan because the governor was concerned about “what happens when the 15,000 test kits run out”?
Kim said he hopes to demonstrate to the governor that he has assembled “a better and more sustainable supply chain” for the test kits.
According to Kim, resources en route to Hawaii Island from Tennessee would allow 1,000 tests a day to be processed at Hilo Medical Center with results within a 24-hour period, “so no more shipment to Honolulu or elsewhere.”
Kim added that he’d planned on using federal funding for that testing, but the state “Department of Transportation heard about it, intercepted it, and said, ‘Harry, we’ll pay for it.’”
In addition, said Kim, there is “a system being given to us by, you know, a very generous person.”
“We’re having a mobile testing system that is being developed as part of this whole plan,” Kim said. “All of those things combine into the plan that is being submitted.”
The Tribune-Herald received a number of emails and calls Tuesday from people affiliated with the visitor industry, expressing concern and outrage that Kim wasn’t on board with Ige’s single-test plan for arrivals.
“We have patiently and painfully awaited the moment that we could safely welcome visitors back to our state, and have been so incredibly excited to have a well thought out plan in place beginning Oct. 15,” said Derrick Balanga and Holly Crane of Anelakai Adventures, a boat tour agency in Kailua-Kona. “Companies like ours are already hanging on by a thread, and the rejection of this plan could be the end for some of us.”
Mendy Dant, executive vice president of Fair Wind Cruises and Kona Sunrise Charters, said she was “stunned that Mayor Kim would put his fear before common sense for his residents of this island.”
“We have lost employees to the mainland, we have lost our money in our bank accounts and are surviving on government loans that have to be paid back,” Dant said. “We are in deep debt, full of uncertainty of the immediate future being able to pay home mortgages, rent, utilities, vehicle payments, payroll, taxes, and mandated employee medical when we can reopen.”
Manu Powers, co-owner of Sea Quest Hawaii with her husband, Liam, said, “Perhaps the most difficult pill to swallow here is how close we were to recovering.”
“Already this morning, I have refunded hundreds of dollars in reservations that have been canceled since the mayor’s decision was made public,” Powers added. “Companies like ours and so many more will continue to lose money until this decision is reversed.”
Regardless of whether Kim can assemble a plan that will satisfy interested parties and allow visitors to the Big Island without a lengthy quarantine process, he’s “made a decision that a one-test system is not an acceptable risk for the people of Hawaii.”
“If a one-test system is allowed in, it will be instrumental in increasing the virus here,” Kim said. “I take that responsibility in the decision I make.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.