Starting Aug. 1, pre-testing program will allow Hawaii travelers to avoid quarantine

The visitor quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on Waikiki, forcing businesses to close. (Source: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Starting Aug. 1, travelers who test negative for COVID-19 no more than 72 hours before arriving in Hawaii will be able to avoid the state’s mandatory, 14-day quarantine.

Gov. David Ige said the pre-testing plan will allow the tourism industry to begin to reopen without a significant spike in new COVID-19 cases in Hawaii.

Ige and other administration officials have pointed to a similar model being used in Alaska as proof that a pre-testing requirement can work.

Alaska also provides testing upon landing.

Ige said that is not part of the state’s pre-testing plan. However, those who exhibit symptoms upon arrival would be offered a COVID-19 test.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell acknowledged trepidation at the prospect of reopening tourism, especially given a surge of coronavirus cases on the mainland.

But he said the safeguards in place, including contact tracing and widespread testing, will allow Hawaii to “live with the virus.”
“We need to return to welcoming visitors to our shores,” Caldwell said.

“For the state of Hawaii, we have approximately 240,000 unemployed people. We’re not going to see a return to a level of employment that we had before unless we open up to visitors.”

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who helped develop the plan with the help of the health care professionals and others, said it’s not a “silver bullet” but part of a multi-layered system.

That system also includes a travel form, health screening questions, and a temperature check.

The announcement comes as the governor’s quarantine order faces legal challenges ― and criticism from the U.S. Justice Department. In a court filing Tuesday, the agency called the mandate “likely” unconstitutional and said it discriminated against non-residents.

Hawaii instituted a mandatory quarantine for all incoming residents and travelers in March. Essential workers are exempt, but all others must quarantine for 14 days ― not even leaving their lodging for food.

In the wake of the order, scores of visitors and even a handful of residents have been arrested for violating quarantine rules. And more than 120 visitors have been assisted with plane tickets back to the mainland.

The governor and state Health Department have credited the quarantine with dramatically reducing Hawaii’s coronavirus infection rate and keeping the number of cases among the lowest in the nation.

On June 16, the governor lifted his inter-island traveler quarantine rule.

At the news conference, House Speaker Scott Saiki said lawmakers have set aside $90 million for thermal screening machines at airports, a web-based traveler information system and supplies.

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