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Gov. Ige: Trans-Pacific travel plan unlikely to arrive by Oct. 1

Mayor Victorino says interisland pretesting plan being completed

A Hawaiian Airlines jet approaches Kahului Airport in July. Gov. David Ige said Wednesday that the state will launch its pre-travel testing program for trans-Pacific travelers on Oct. 15. The Maui News MATTHEW THAYER photo

Gov. David Ige said Monday that the trans-Pacific pre-travel testing plan likely will be pushed back again — this time beyond its Oct. 1 tentative start date, a spokeswoman from his office confirmed Monday afternoon.

The program, originally slated to begin Aug. 1, was designed as a way to reopen tourism and bypass the mandatory 14-day quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test taken 72 hours prior to departure. It has been delayed repeatedly, with state officials citing surges in COVID-19.

Even so, a Neighbor Island pre-travel testing plan, which is being completed, would come before the trans-Pacific launch, Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said Monday during his afternoon news conference.

“We are completing the interisland to be the prelude for the trans-Pacific,” Victorino said. “It’s the same testing, but we are trying to test it interisland first to see how effective we can be with it.”

Victorino said he is hesitant to give a time frame on a possible launch for either pre-travel testing plan.

“To give you time frames are very dangerous at this point. Every time we give you a time frame and we don’t meet it, a lot of you are disappointed,” he said. “But I would say we are hopeful within the next 30 to 45 days something can start up. I reserve the right to let the governor make that final announcement.”

With the bulk of COVID-19 cases on Oahu, the state began a partial interisland quarantine in mid-August that requires travelers to Neighbor Island counties to self-quarantine for 14 days. The partial quarantine was intended to limit spread, especially since fewer health care resources exist on Neighbor Islands.

Medical and work exemptions unique to each county must be applied for and granted by the county of destination. Exemption information is listed on Neighbor Island county websites.

Last week, state lawmakers called for a pretesting pilot program that would allow travel exclusively among Neighbor Islands.

Members of the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 said in a letter to Ige on Sept. 3 that the Neighbor Island counties could serve as “ideal pilot program testing sites” and that once cases subside on Oahu, “interisland travel to Honolulu could also be added to provide a high-volume testing opportunity.”

Victorino said Monday he’s supportive of the program, and the state is continuing to work on the logistics.

“I’ve asked the governor that we have an opportunity that if a county feels something needs to be stricter we are allowed to implement that stricter rule for our county,” he said during the news conference.

During a Facebook Live interview with Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Monday, Ige said the state is beginning to look at reopening Hawaii to visitors with potentially two different dates.

The governor said he met with hotel and industry leaders over the weekend, and they emphasized that from the beginning, they needed about “a month lead time” in order to bring back staff, begin training and other visitor preparations.

“We are starting to look at it in two different ways: pre-travel testing and having people get a test prior to actually coming to the islands helps us as a community . . . and then when would Hawaii be ready to accept travelers? When are restaurants going to be open? When are we going to have the kind of experience that people expect when they travel to Hawaii?” Ige said. “That might end up being separate dates.”

Ige added that the state is continuing to lay the groundwork for a pre-travel testing program and that it is making progress. However, the launch date will likely again be postponed, he added.

“Just talking with many in the industry, it will probably not be Oct. 1,” Ige said. “In the next few days, we will be providing a better plan for what those dates would look like.”

State health officials reported 80 new COVID-19 infections Monday, including 70 on Oahu, seven on Hawaii island, two on Molokai and one on Maui, bringing Hawaii’s total since the pandemic’s start to 10,779.

Due to updated information, one case from Oahu was removed and another Oahu case was recategorized to Maui, according to the state Department of Health.

Overall cases include 9,723 on Oahu, 594 on Hawaii island, 378 in Maui County (including 15 on Molokai and none on Lanai) and 58 on Kauai. Twenty six residents have been diagnosed out of the state.

As of Monday, 6,987 infections were considered active, with 3,693 patients, or 33 percent of those infected, classified as “released from isolation.”

There have been 636 hospitalizations in the state and 99 fatalities linked to COVID-19, including 86 on Oahu, nine on Maui, three on Hawaii island and one Kauai resident who died on the Mainland.

The department said Monday that 25 deaths associated with a positive coronavirus result are still pending receipt of records, with 10 of these deaths pending a final medical examiner report.

During the news conference on Monday, the county also said that:

• Requests continue to come in from people who want to put up tents, hold gatherings and/or grill at beaches and parks. Victorino cautioned against grilling, since it may become a fire hazard in a time when the county is “extremely dry.” Victorino said he maintains that the restriction on pop-up tents, grilling and gatherings will curb the spread of COVID-19 by discouraging congregating. “Help us make things safer by doing what is right,” he said.

• Drive-thru COVID-19 testing and mask distribution in collaboration with Minit Medical will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday at Mitchell Pauole Community Center on Molokai. About 2,000 masks will be distributed. Preregistration for testing is encouraged by visiting www.minitmed.com. Testing is open to anyone whether they have symptoms or not. It is free and no insurance is needed. For information, call Minit Medical Urgent Care at (808) 667-6161.

• $6 million in CARES Act funds have been allocated to the Kokua Maui County Small Business Recovery and Relief Fund, a partnership among six chartered federal credit unions in Maui County. The maximum award for small businesses is $7,500 and covers reimbursable business expenses such as rent/lease payments, utility payments and COVID-19 safety precautions at the place of business. Businesses must have gross revenues of $2 million or less for 2019 to qualify. To apply or for more information, visit www.mauinuistrong.net/kokua-maui-county or call 270-5745.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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