Gov. David Ige announced today that trans-Pacific travelers to Hawaii, who can’t present a negative pre-arrivals test upon arrival, won’t be able to bypass the 14-day quarantine once their test arrives.
Ige said during a media briefing today that the change starts Tuesday and does not apply to interisland travel. He also clarified that a trans-Pacific travelers don’t have to have the test results uploaded to the Safe Travels Hawaii site and could still exempt out of quarantine if they arrived with a valid negative COVID-19 test in hand
“We are adding this safety precaution now in response to the dramatically increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the continental U.S. and around the world,” Ige said. “Currently 94% of travelers participating in the pre-travel testing program for Hawaii arrive here with their test in hand. But at least 44 travelers, who took the pre-travel test before departure got a positive result upon arrival or a day or two later. It isn’t a large number, but it’s enough to change the policy.”
Ige also announced that the state is adding Canada, Hawaii’s second largest international markets, to the state’s pre-arrivals testing program, with South Korea and Taiwan coming soon.
Since Oct. 15, domestic trans-Pacific “travelers who, upon entry into the state, provide written confirmation from a state-approved COVID-19 testing facility of a negative test result from a test administered to the traveler within 72 hours from the final leg of departure” have been exempt from the mandatory quarantine.
Travelers who came in with a pending test result have been allowed to get out of the quarantine once it could be verified through the state’s Safe Travels Hawaii system.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green said during the briefing that roughly 6% of people coming into Hawaii as part of the Safe Travels Hawaii program have either not gotten their test results in time or have had challenges getting it uploaded.
However, the state quickly found itself with a backlog of pending tests. Travelers grew frustrated as they waited sometimes three to four days or more wait for a manual review. During one low point, there were more than 3,700 travelers waiting to get out of quarantine. Green said the numbers are much better now, but are still a concern.
“It’s a much stricter policy that is being taken,” Hawaii Tourism Authority President and CEO John De Fries told his board today. “This has been brought about by the number of people who have arrived with no test uploaded, test results pending. That segment of traveler has caused a tremendous amount of workload and a bottleneck in the system.”
While state officials link most of Hawaii’s COVID-19 cases to local spread, Ige said “certainly we do anticipate that there would be a few COVID cases that would be introduced because of travel.”
So far, Green said surveillance testing shows that the positivity rate is less than 1 out of every 700 travelers arriving in Hawaii, “which means we are able to control that spread.”
Ige said the state is working to keep traveler-related cases of COVID-19 down through pre-arrivals testing and partnering with hotels and other members of the visitor industry to mitigate spread. The state is also the only one in the nation to offer thermal screening at the airport, he said.
The state’s approach to recovering travel as been safety first.
It wasn’t until Nov. 6 that the first international visitors were allowed to take part in the state’s pre-travel testing program under an agreement that allowed travelers from Japan to visit Hawaii under the same program as domestic passengers.
Only a few thousand visitors from Japan are expected to come to Hawaii during the remainder of this year.
Canada’s early recovery has the same challenge as Japan — a requirement that nationals returning from trips abroad quarantine for 14 days upon their return home.
However, some eligible international travellers returning to Alberta at select airport and border crossings may participate in the Alberta COVID-19 Border Testing Pilot Program that allows for a reduced quarantine. Right now, the program is only available at Coutts land border crossing or Calgary International Airport, passengers arriving from another Canadian airport are not eligible.
De Fries said he it was too early to estimate how much Canadian travel demand will materialize for Hawaii.
Still, the trickle of international visitors, no matter how small, is still an important step to recovering Hawaii’s economy because not all of the state’s visitor industry infrastructure is built around catering to domestic visitors.