Lawmakers to Kim: Don’t opt out of pre-travel testing program

The majority of the Big Island’s state legislators sent a letter today to Mayor Harry Kim, expressing their concerns about Kim’s “stated intent to opt out of the state’s pre-travel testing program and leave the 14-day mandatory quarantine in place, effectively continuing a shutdown of tourism for Hawaii Island.”

The letter — signed by Sens. Lorraine Inouye, Dru Kanuha and Kai Kahele, and Reps. Chris Todd, Richard Onishi, Joy San Buenaventura, David Tarnas, Mark Nakashima and Nicole Lowen — was in reaction to a press release Tuesday by Kim’s office saying he wants a round of post-travel COVID-19 testing for trans-Pacific travelers, in addition to the pre-travel test the state will require.

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The letter, which was not signed by Sen. Russell Ruderman and Rep. Richard Creagan, neither of whom ran for re-election, states:

“We support a secondary test requirement, as soon as it is feasible to implement. However, in the meantime, we urge the county to retain the Oct. 15 start date for the pre-travel testing program, while simultaneously working towards standing up a program that includes post-arrival testing.

“The pre-travel testing program has been discussed at length since last June, was repeatedly delayed, and then was finally scheduled to begin on Oct. 15, a date that was announced three weeks ago on Sept. 16. Given the amount of time that the county has had to consider and prepare for this, the eleventh-hour change of heart that was announced (Tuesday) was unexpected. The tourism shutdown has already had devastating impacts on the local economy, which are compounded by the poor timing of this announcement. Cancellations of airline, hotel and activity reservations are already pouring in, and the reality is that our island businesses cannot to continue to weather this storm.

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“The health and safety of our residents must be the highest priority. However, using only closures and shutdowns each time there is an increase in cases is not an effective long-term strategy and is unsustainable. Other steps to manage this pandemic must be taken. Specifically, better communication with the public and increased efforts for enforcement of rules and guidelines, including the use of face masks and other public health recommendations, are needed. With the vast majority of current cases on Hawaii Island coming from community spread of the virus, interaction with our own neighbors poses as great a risk as interaction with an incoming visitor who has received a negative test result 72 hours prior. It is far more important that efforts be made to enforce proper use of face masks, gathering limits, and other public health recommendations. If this is done with consistency and clarity, along with the state’s efforts to provide proactive contact tracing and robust testing, we believe visitors can safely return to our county without seeing the number of cases of COVID-19 spiral out of control.

“We hope that you will reconsider your decision and allow the pre-travel testing program to begin as planned on Oct. 15.”

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