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Flyers with nontrusted COVID-19 tests accepted through Sunday

Kahului Airport adds screeners to trim waits

American Airlines Manager Tiffany Lau decorates an arrival gate at Kahului Airport on Thursday with help from state Airports Visitor Information Programs Supervisor Makoa Aikala. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Some trans-Pacific flyers arriving to Hawaii may get an exemption from quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test from a nontrusted partner — but just through the weekend, state officials said Friday.

Residents and visitors flying to Maui this week have voiced concerns about the state’s certified pre-travel testing partners, saying that many prove hard to find, have long test turnaround times and are not yet operational.

Meanwhile, Kahului Airport added screeners to help alleviate longer post-arrival processing that had reached 90 minutes Thursday.

The state’s pre-travel testing program that launched Thursday requires trans-Pacific travelers take an FDA-approved COVID-19 nucleic acid amplification test done at Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments-certified locations. However, testing sites also must be among Hawaii’s 17 “trusted testing partners” listed on its www.hawaiicovid19.com website.

The “vast majority” of travelers followed program rules, but there were some outliers, according to Cindy McMillan, spokeswoman for Gov. David Ige’s office.

C.J. and Cassandra Barretto of Las Vegas locate their bags at Kahului Airport’s baggage claim area on Friday afternoon. They said it took about an hour to be screened, which was much shorter than the two to three hours in line they had read about on the internet. “It was all over social media,” Cassandra said. “It was cool,” C.J.  said. “I feel like it could have been faster, but I’m not sure how.” — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“There were a few whose pre-travel test met all of the requirements with the exception that it wasn’t conducted by a trusted partner,” she said in an email to The Maui News on Friday. “For today and tomorrow, they will be allowed to enter without quarantining.”

State Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Sakahara said later Friday that the deadline was extended to Sunday.

“It is essential that arriving passengers meet all of the program’s requirements going forward, McMillan added.

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, during a county news conference Friday afternoon, said that the state is looking into adding about 81 trusted testing partners to its list.

“We want to make sure that even the unapproved partners, so long as they do the correct test and have negative results” are allowed, he said. “The governor and the state are trying to make that possible until we get everything fixed and completed as far as additional partners are concerned.”

Victorino said adding trusted partners may be the first step to alleviating congestion for post-travel screening once flyers deplane.

Some travelers to Kahului Airport reported waiting for more than an hour during peak times when multiple trans-Pacific flights landed around the same time.

“There is no way in heck we can make sure there is no long lines. You saw it in Honolulu, Kauai, every island had the same problem,” Victorino said.

He added that staggering flight arrival times and increasing airport screeners may help alleviate longer wait times.

Maui Airports District Manager Marvin Moniz on Friday night said that 1,400 trans-Pacific travelers and 10 flights were anticipated Friday.

Friday ran more smoothly than Thursday’s program launch.

“More people were better prepared today,” he said. “It helped. We saw more of the trusted partner tests, too.”

Moniz said that four additional airport screeners were added Friday to the eight to 12 existing stations. He is seeking about 25 total screeners, he said.

Processing a single trans-Pacific flight with more than 100 passengers runs smoothly. But if three flights land within minutes of one another, screening can take about an hour or so.

“It’s like if 400 guys went to Tasty Crust at once,” Moniz said.

Maui County officials announced Friday that the governor signed off on updated emergency rules that allow county residents traveling between counties for medical purposes an exemption from quarantine and a pre-departure COVID-19 test. It applies only for same day or overnight travel.

Travelers don’t need to apply for a quarantine exemption but must present a flight itinerary and doctor’s letter with appointment to airport screeners on arrival.

If the medical traveler needs a travel companion, the person must be named in the doctor’s letter.

County officials, during the news conference, said that 2,981 passengers were screened Thursday in Maui County — 2,156 were visitors and 825 were residents. Kahului Airport saw 1,807; Molokai Airport had 22; and Lanai City Airport recorded six.

Those arriving with a negative test were 59 percent; 30 percent were intercounty travelers with work exemptions; and 11 percent were required to quarantine.

The first trans-Pacific flight to Kahului Airport utilizing the state’s new program — a United Airlines jet with 136 passengers from Los Angeles that landed before noon Thursday — had about 40 passengers with negative COVID-19 tests from nontrusted partners, according to an airport screener.

Throughout the day, though, the percentage of nontrusted partner tests dropped to about 10 percent per flight.

“Key takeaways were that the vast majority of trans-Pacific travelers received a negative test before coming into Maui County,” said county Managing Director Sandy Baz.

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

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