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State: Pre-travel testing to take off Oct. 15

Interisland quarantine stays in effect until Sept. 30 for time being

DAVID IGE – Testing just part of solution

Gov. David Ige announced Wednesday that the state will launch its long-delayed pre-travel testing program on Oct. 15, allowing trans-Pacific flyers who test negative for COVID-19 to bypass the state’s 14-day quarantine.

“This pre-travel testing will allow us to add a greater element of safety for travel into our state,” Ige said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “Pre-travel testing is just one of many things we have to do that fall into our three priority areas of health, the economy and the community.”

The program, which was supposed to start Aug. 1 but was pushed back as COVID-19 cases rose, gives travelers the option to enter quarantine or take a nucleic acid amplification test (the nasal swab) no more than 72 hours prior to traveling, Lt. Gov. Josh Green explained. If they are negative, they can skip the quarantine. If results are not available by the time they arrive in Hawaii, they will have to stay in quarantine until they get their results.

The rules would apply to all passengers, including children of all ages. Travelers will need to pay for the tests themselves. No commercial testing will be provided at Hawaii’s airports at this time, said Green, who joined the news conference from home isolation after testing positive for the virus last week.

Ige said the state has agreements with CVS and Kaiser Permanente to offer the tests and will announce new partners in the coming weeks. The agreements ensure the companies can conduct the tests and commit to returning results within three days. Ige said they’re also discussing with CVS, Kaiser and other testing partners how the state can verify the validity of travelers’ tests.

A United Airlines jetliner files in Maui skies in March. Trans-Pacific flyers into the islands will be allowed to bypass the 14-quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19, beginning Oct. 15. Kaiser Permanente and CVS have agreed to conduct the tests, which have to be done 72 hours before travel, and return the results in time for flyers to depart. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Green said the cost of the test with CVS will likely be around $139, though prices around the country have ranged from $120 to $140.

“The technology of testing is rapidly evolving, so as cheaper, quicker tests become available and we have acceptable tests that are specific and sensitive, we’ll work with DOH, DOT, airports, health care people everywhere, to use those tests also,” Green said.

He and Ige said the state has sent out a request for proposals to help expand testing capacity locally, with a goal of reaching up to 13,000 tests per day.

Maui Airports District Manager Marvin Moniz said Wednesday that he thought the launch of the pre-travel testing program was “positive news.”

“I think it’s a good start to opening up our economy,” Moniz said. “Obviously, we needed to start somewhere, and I think this is an early step.”

He said airport officials would be meeting today to discuss how the program would be carried out at the state’s airports.

Maui Hotel and Lodging Association Executive Director Rod Antone said that “we feel a little more confident” that the program will happen this time because the state is offering more specifics.

“I don’t know if all of them will open exactly on Oct. 15,” Antone said of the hotels. “Some may have to have at least one more week of prep. But definitely the Oct. 15 date helps them prepare, helps them decide, OK, I really will order food this time. . . . I can bring in my people and get them trained because they are going to work.”

On Tuesday, Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami announced that the county had gotten approval to launch a “resort bubble” type of program, allowing quarantined visitors to leave their hotel rooms but stay on property and use the resort’s amenities.

Maui County hotels had been considering a similar idea, but Antone said that “one size does not fit all” and that some properties are better equipped to follow a resort bubble plan. He said it’s always been an option but that many prefer the statewide testing program.

Resort bubbles and testing travelers can only go so far in preventing the virus from spreading; it comes down to residents taking precautions as well, Antone said.

“This plan is not going to work if somebody at home who lives with a hotel worker is out and is not responsible and affects the hotel worker, and the hotel worker brings it to the hotel,” he said. “We’ve got to look at both ends of this. We all have to take responsibility.”

With more visitors possibly on the horizon, Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said he would look at opening up more attractions, but that they would have to follow physical distancing and mask wearing and offer sanitizing stations.

“I’m going to phase them in like I’ve phased everything else in and see how it works,” he said.

Both he and Ige cautioned that they will continue to watch case counts before deciding to lift the interisland travel quarantine, which is still in effect through Sept. 30 unless it’s canceled or extended.

“I think we’re looking at low double digits across the board, especially for Oahu, because that’s where a lot of travel seems to disseminate through,” Victorino said.

Earlier this month, state lawmakers on the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 had urged the governor to launch a pre-travel testing program for Neighbor Island travel, a proposal that still appeared to be on the table Wednesday. Ige said that a task force of representatives from each county is discussing what that program might look like and how the state could carry it out.

Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English, who represents East Maui, Molokai and Lanai, said that Neighbor Island lawmakers have been talking about the program but have been unsure about jurisdiction and enforcement. He said he hoped more Food and Drug Administration-approved rapid tests will be available soon. If not, asking interisland travelers to take a test that won’t offer results for three days could be “cumbersome.”

“From a safety standpoint, it would seem logical to do so, but from a practical standpoint, what’s the mechanics?” he asked.

English said he thought launching the trans-Pacific testing program was “a good move forward.”

“We’ve got to do it cautiously,” he said. “I also think that the Kauai bubble that was just allowed is a good thing, and I’m waiting for Maui’s bubble.”

On Wednesday, the state Department of Health reported 102 new cases, including 97 on Oahu, four on Hawaii island and one resident out of state.

There have now been 10,946 cases statewide, including 9,879 on Oahu, 603 in Hawaii County, 378 in Maui County (including 15 on Molokai and none on Lanai) and 58 in Kauai County. Twenty-eight residents have been diagnosed out of state.

The department also announced three new deaths on Oahu, two men and one woman in their 70s with underlying health conditions who had been in the hospital.

The state reports 103 deaths related to COVID-19 so far, including 90 on Oahu, nine in Maui County, three in Hawaii County and one out of state.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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