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Mayor: Virus surge makes traveler testing plan unsafe

HONOLULU — Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Thursday it’s not safe to follow through with a plan to allow out-of-state travelers to use a negative COVID-19 test to bypass a 14-day quarantine requirement beginning Aug. 1.

The mayor cited a surge in coronavirus cases in California and other Mainland states where most of Hawaii’s tourists come from. He further pointed to declines in the state’s testing capacity as laboratories run short on testing supplies due to high demand for those same supplies in other states.

“We know that right now the COVID-19 is on a rampage throughout the state of California. And they’ve lost control of the virus. And so we’re concerned as visitors come here that they may be bringing the virus with them,” Caldwell said at a news conference.

The traveler testing plan would allow those coming from out of state to skip a requirement that they self-quarantine for 14 days if they test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours before arriving.

The Honolulu City Council on Wednesday urged the governor to consider delaying the plan until the rate of new coronavirus cases on the Mainland and in Hawaii drops significantly.

There were 36 new COVID-19 cases reported Thursday, 34 on Oahu. None of the cases were in Maui County. A record 41 cases was reported Tuesday with most of the cases on Oahu.

Caldwell said the state’s four county mayors met with Gov. David Ige on Wednesday to discuss the issue but did not reach a conclusion. He said they agreed to think it over and talk again Thursday.

Caldwell acknowledged that many who work in the tourism industry will struggle until it’s easier for visitors to come to Hawaii.

“How do we address getting people back to work with keeping our residents safe? And it’s not one or the other, it’s finding that balance,” he said.

The near-total collapse of Hawaii’s tourism industry due to the pandemic has pushed the state’s unemployment rate to 22.6 percent, the second worst in the nation after Nevada.

Ige said in a written statement he was meeting with the mayors to discuss the situation.

“We are getting input from community leaders as we carefully consider the health and safety of our residents and the financial health of our communities because we know they are interconnected,” Ige said.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who represents Maui County, “strongly” urged Ige and county mayors to continue the quarantine on transpacific travelers “because of the surge of COVID-19 infections occurring across the country, with many states experiencing a higher number of positive COVID-19 cases now than at any point during this pandemic.”

She also cited “an extreme shortage” in testing agents, personal protective equipment and medical supplies.

“We must put the health and lives of the people of Hawaii first and take necessary actions to contain and defeat this virus in our state,” she said. “The travel quarantine must remain in place for the time being as we focus on containing and defeating the virus, massively increasing our testing and tracing capacity, and securing our medical supply chains.”

* The Maui News contributed to this report.

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