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State’s pretravel plan postponed to Sept. 1, Ige says

Governor points to surge in cases nationally and locally, break in test supply chain

Gov. David Ige announced today that the pretravel testing program will be postponed until Sept. 1. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Gov. David Ige announced Monday afternoon that he will be postponing to Sept. 1 the pretravel testing program, a way to bypass the state’s mandatory 14-day travel quarantine.

Pointing to a record amount of cases in Hawaii over the weekend, surges in key states on the Mainland and a break in the supply chain of testing kits, Ige said he and the county mayors faced a difficult decision on whether to launch the program.

“It was a choice between two difficult options,” he said during a news conference Monday. “On one hand we continue to move forward and reopen our economy but risk an uncontrolled surge of COVID-19 cases, on the other hand we could delay the pretravel test program and risk further damage to our economy. Let me make this clear the mayors and I fully understand the gravity of those choices before us.”

The program was originally slated for Aug. 1 and provides a way for travelers who produce a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure to avoid the state’s mandatory 14-day travel quarantine.

Tourism-reliant sectors, including Maui County hotels and small businesses, were preparing to reopen Aug. 1 to coincide with the new pretravel testing program.

“All of you have made enormous sacrifices and our economy has suffered,” Ige said. “This will make our economic recovery more challenging. But as I have always said, your health and safety comes first.”

Ige said state and county leaders still “believe in” the pretravel testing program and they are making advances with finding testing sites and partners, which will be announced leading up to the program’s launch.

The highly anticipated news on the travel program comes just three weeks after it was unveiled. Since then, surges have happened across the nation, including key states including California that feed Hawaii’s visitor industry.

Also in recent weeks Hawaii has experienced record-breaking single day COVID-19 counts. Saturday had 44 new cases, the highest single-day total since tracking began Feb. 28.

State health officials this morning renewed calls for safe practices amid three more COVID-19 deaths of Hawaii residents, 86 new cases since Friday and 23 new cases today.

Recent deaths released this morning by state health officials include a Kauai resident who died in Arizona on an unreported date after months of receiving treatment for underlying medical conditions; an Oahu female July 12 who had previously been a resident of a care home; and an elderly Oahu man July 7 with underlying health conditions.

Total fatalities are now at 22 for the state.

“We all extend our heartfelt sympathies to the family and friends of these three people,” said state Health Director Dr. Bruce Anderson in a state news release. “The best tribute to their lives and to the lives of all 22 people who’ve lost the fight against coronavirus, is getting everyone in Hawai’i to take personal responsibility for their own health and the health of everyone around them.”

The state tallied 23 new cases today, including 19 on Oahu, one on Hawaii island, one in Maui County and two residents diagnosed out of state.

Most of the 86 additional cases recorded since Friday are in previous clusters associated with “community-spread,” health officials said in the release. For example, a total of 44 cases are associated with a training activity at Hawaiian Airlines, in which a person infected during these meetings, is linked to a cluster of 20 cases involving two Oahu gyms.

“This clearly shows how easily and quickly this virus can spread from person-to-person and from place-to-place when people are not practicing physical distancing, not wearing masks, not staying home when sick, and possibly not washing their hands frequently and thoroughly,” state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said in the release.

Health experts are urging people to maintain safe practices and encourage others to do so to prevent the continuation of a spike in cases.

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