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Testing plan devised to bypass travel quarantine

Details still being hashed out for travelers to get tests at their own expense before they get on plane

Army National Guard Spc. Zachary Cabingas checks a passenger’s temperature at Kahului Airport last week on the first day of interisland travel without the mandatory 14-day quarantine. Starting Aug. 1, the state plans to require people traveling to Hawaii to get tested for COVID-19 before they leave the Mainland and show proof of a negative result in order to bypass the 14-day quarantine that is currently required for arrivals. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Acknowledging the plan is no “silver bullet,” the state announced Wednesday a prearrival testing program slated to begin Aug. 1 that will give visitors and returning residents an alternative to the 14-day mandatory quarantine, which will remain in effect.

People entering Hawaii will be able to bypass the 14-day mandatory self-quarantine if a negative COVID-19 test is proven upon arrival.

“It’s not perfect, as we know, but it will minimize the risk that COVID-19 is imported into our state,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Wednesday. “It’s the one import that we want least in the state.”

Green, along with Gov. David Ige, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, state lawmakers and other officials, discussed the trans-Pacific travel plan during a news conference on Oahu on Wednesday.

The announcement comes on the heels of mounting pressure to reopen Hawaii’s visitor industry as the state’s economy continues to tank. Maui County and other Neighbor Islands are more reliant on tourism dollars, especially from domestic travelers. Statewide, more than 200,000 have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic’s onset.

Passengers arrive at the Kahului Airport last week on the first day of interisland travel without the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Hawaii went from the nation’s lowest rate of unemployment to the second highest in the course of several weeks, Ige said Wednesday. As of May, Maui County reported the highest unemployment in the state at 33.4 percent. The federal support of $600 per week for unemployment benefits with expire July 31.

“Now is the time to work together as a community to ensure that our residents and local businesses can safely return to a larger volume of travelers,” Ige said.

House Speaker Scott Saiki said Wednesday that the state Legislature is poised to approve $90 million for health and safety protocol at state airports. Maui County Managing Director Sandy Baz said during a county press conference Wednesday afternoon that he did not have an estimate on the amount of funding that would be allocated for Kahului Airport.

If approved, the money would go toward testing and screening requirements, according to Baz.

“We will continue to work with the governor, lieutenant governor and other state officials on implementing safe and secure procedures for trans-Pacific travel to Hawaii, especially into Maui County,” Baz said. “There will be changes to Kahului Airport operations, and we’ve been working with Maui District airport manager, the National Guard and others related to those changes.

“We want to make sure that things are in place before that August 1 deadline of travelers to be allowed to come without quarantine,” he added.

Details from the state are continuing to be hashed out, but the current timeline gives the visitor industry and other businesses time to implement proper health and safety measures, Baz said.

With the prearrival testing program, visitors and returning residents to Hawaii must get a PCR test prior to arrival from a state Department of Health-approved testing location. No testing will be provided on arrival at the airport, a state news release said. A PCR test is a polymerase chain reaction test usually collected via swab that detects infection.

Pointing to a challenging process, state leaders said that officials are still in the process of developing the program.

The Health Department anticipates requiring an FDA-approved PCR test from a federally certified lab, according to the release. Travelers will be responsible for the pretravel test cost and will be required to show printed or emailed pretest certification as evidence of a negative result.

“Please be assured this is not a silver bullet,” Green said Wednesday.

Instead, the pretesting plan is part of a “multilayered system” that would be complemented by comprehensive contact tracing, thermal screening and other state efforts, Green said.

Ige said existing temperature checks and screening will continue. Anyone with a temperature over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or other symptoms will have to go through a secondary screening process upon airport arrival with trained health care staff.

All people entering the state will continue to be required to fill out the State of Hawaii health form that’s verified upon arrival, Ige added.

Green said the state is crafting the pretesting plan by working with others who are implementing the same measures.

“Alaska in particular has been guiding us,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of their results, seeing how it can work and how it can be improved.”

He added that the measure has support from the medical community.

“We had 700 docs write to us asking us to do this,” Green said.

It’s been 13 weeks since Hawaii’s mandatory 14-day self-quarantine went into effect, which Ige said was “one of the most effective measures” in helping the state control the spread of COVID-19.

On Tuesday, 1,512 people arrived in Hawaii, including 108 to Maui. Of those arrivals to Maui, 48 were returning residents, 42 were visitors and six said they are relocating, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority. Twelve were crew members.

Health officials reported 16 new COVID-19 cases as of noon Wednesday, including 13 on Oahu, one on Hawaii island, and two residents diagnosed outside of Hawaii.

The state total is now 835, including 584 on Oahu, 122 in Maui County (including two on Molokai and none on Lanai), 86 on Hawaii island and 29 on Kauai. There are now 14 cases of residents diagnosed outside of Hawaii.

There have been 17 deaths statewide, including six on Maui.

A total of 686 people have been released from isolation and 105 cases have required hospitalization, including 25 in Maui County. According to DOH reports, the increase of three required hospitalizations for Maui reported yesterday was the result of updated information on previously reported cases, and were not new hospitalizations.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com. Dakota Grossman contributed to this story.

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