Hawai‘i’s Safe Travels coronavirus testing program will remain in effect, but with an important change beginning next week.
Governor David Ige on Thursday announced that people traveling to the state now must be in possession of the results of their COVID-19 tests before departing on the last leg of their trips. If they do not have the test results by that time, they will be forced to quarantine for 14 days.
Previously, travelers could earn quarantine exemption as long as they’d taken a test within 72 hours of departure, even if those test results had not been returned.
The new testing requirements will apply to all trans-Pacific domestic and international travel. They will not apply to interisland travel. The administration expects most travelers from most areas of the country will be able to work successfully with trusted partners to procure test results within the required timeframe and that travel to the state will not be hindered in a significant way.
The Safe Travels Program has come under criticism from county mayors as coronavirus numbers have skyrocketed across the mainland United States. Kaua‘i Mayor Derek Kawakami noted specifically the deficiency in allowing travelers to bypass quarantine before their test results were confirmed.
The governor said that within the five weeks since Hawai‘i implemented the Safe Travels Program, 94% of travelers have arrived with their results in-hand. The state’s tracking system has identified 44 individuals who were afforded quarantine exemption before their test results were returned and ended up proving positive for coronavirus.
“We have to close the gap to ensure everyone’s safety,” Ige said.
Overall, Hawai’i’s Safe Travels Program has ushered nearly 187,000 visitors and 87,000 residents into the islands. Of those, 89% have been exempted from quarantine, while more than 7,000 were found to be infected with the coronavirus. Those found to be positive for the virus were placed in quarantine.
Lieutenant Governor Josh Green said surveillance testing, which tests 10% of arrivals a second time between one and four days after landing in Hawai‘i, has produced positive results in 1.6 out of every 1,000 individuals.
Surveillance testing has noted 27 people were positive out of more than 17,000 tested a second time. Extrapolating those figures out across the total number of arrivals would mean that likely between 400–450 COVID-positive people have arrived in the state over the last five weeks without being made to quarantine. The total represents roughly 0.0014% of all those who have arrived during the time period in question.
Green said these numbers are actually encouraging five weeks into the administration’s endeavor to welcome back tourism and restart a faltering island economy.
“It means we’ve been able to do Safe Travels, we’ve been able to restore some hope to our people in advance of the holidays, and we’ve been able to keep people healthy,” Green said.
A second coronavirus test is not required for trans-Pacific travelers arriving in Hawai‘i due to a lack of testing capacity, the governor said.
A second test was required for all those arriving to the Big Island for roughly the first three weeks of the Safe Travels Program. However, Mayor Harry Kim was forced to roll that program back due to financial and personnel constraints, as well as logistical issues at Big Island airports. As of that change, 20% of arrivals to the Big Island receive a second test upon arrival.
Hawai‘i currently has the best per capita coronavirus numbers in the nation, with a seven-day average of 88 new cases daily and a test positivity rate of 2%. The average number of people hospitalized statewide on a day-to-day basis is currently 76, down from a peak of 318 patients in late August.