Almost 4,000 tested after arriving on the Big Island

  • Visitors line a corridor in the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport as they enter the state, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in Honolulu. A new pre-travel testing program will allow visitors who test negative for COVID-19 to come to Hawaii and avoid two weeks of mandatory quarantine goes into effect Thursday. The pandemic has caused a devastating downturn on Hawaii’s tourism-based economy. Coronavirus weary residents and struggling business owners in Hawaii will be watching closely as tourists begin to return to the islands. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

  • State officials assist visitors at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in Honolulu. A new pre-travel testing program will allow visitors who test negative for COVID-19 to come to Hawaii and avoid two weeks of mandatory quarantine goes into effect Thursday. The pandemic has caused a devastating downturn on Hawaii’s tourism-based economy. Coronavirus weary residents and struggling business owners in Hawaii will be watching closely as tourists begin to return to the islands. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Nearly 4,000 travelers were given post-flight tests at Big Island airports during the past week.

Under a policy established by Mayor Harry Kim, Hawaii County on Oct. 15 began allowing out-of-state travelers to forgo a 14-day quarantine upon arrival with the presentation of one negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before arrival and another negative test taken immediately after arrival.

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Between Oct. 15 and Wednesday, Kim said, 3,891 travelers took the second test at Big Island airports, 407 of whom did so in Hilo.

Kim said people 15 tested positive on the rapid-response test administered at the airports. Of those 15, only one tested positive again on a follow-up polymerase chain reaction test, or PCR test.

According to data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, 5,013 trans-Pacific passengers arrived at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport in West Hawaii during the same date range.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, during a news conference Thursday, said 58,611 people have been screened in the first seven days since the state began its Safe Travels Hawaii program. Under the program, each island that is not the Big Island also requires a negative pre-flight COVID test to avoid quarantine, but not a post-flight test, although each other island has policies in place to allow voluntary post-flight tests.

Of those travelers, 49,791 were permitted to skip quarantine, with 7,293 still required to quarantine.

“We’ve had almost nobody have COVID when they got here,” Green said. “Out of the first 4,100 tests that we’ve done on people’s arrival, only one person out of all those people tested positive for COVID.”

While it is still too early to tell whether case numbers will increase substantially as more travelers return to Hawaii, Kim said Hawaii County will fine-tune its airport testing program to be more user-friendly.

“The first day was really hectic,” Kim admitted. “Some people would probably use a different word than ‘hectic.’”

Kim said the testing effort at the Kona airport was unprepared for an influx of more than 900 travelers on Oct. 15, which was spurred in part by some airlines offering substantially discounted flights on that day.

However, Kim also conceded that the county’s communication regarding its testing policies has caused considerable confusion among travelers.

“Our phones haven’t stopped ringing,” Kim said. “There have been a lot of calls for clarification, and that’s to be expected.”

One traveler frustrated by the confusion, Naalehu resident Rene Vetter, said it is next to impossible to make plans for flights because the Big Island’s conditions for interisland and out-of-state arrivals continue to fluctuate.

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“I think it should just be Gov. Ige who says what the rules are,” Vetter said. “I think the mayors should stop making their own rules.”

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

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