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Some Mauians trying to return struggle with pre-travel plan

Trans-Pacific and inter-county programs set to launch today

MARVIN MONIZ – Added staff for pre-travel plan

Some Maui residents scheduled to return home from the Mainland today said those planning to use the state’s trans-Pacific pre-travel testing program may want to prepare for a bumpy ride.

Kay Lloyd, who’s flying from California to Maui today, said the program — which launches today — is hard enough for residents, let alone for visitors, heading to Hawaii.

“I do not know why any tourist would go through all of this to come to Maui,” she said Wednesday. “I know this is a lot for our officials to have to sort through, and I appreciate all of the time that has been devoted to this, but it’s a real mess.”

Meanwhile, Kahului Airport has added about 20 staff members in preparation for the program, which will allow flyers to avoid a 14-day quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test, Maui Airports District Manager Marvin Moniz said Wednesday. The airport is anticipating approximately 1,000 arrivals per day, up from about 300 on a busy day in past months of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

The pre-travel testing program, thrice-delayed since Aug. 1, allows trans-Pacific travelers who produce a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their final leg to avoid the state’s 14-day mandatory self-quarantine. Nucleic acid amplification tests must be done through state-approved testing partners found at hawaiicovid19.com and uploaded to the Hawaii Safe Travels online application (travel.hawaii .gov) for airport screening.

Acknowledging that the pre-travel plan won’t be perfect, state leaders have revised guidelines multiple times in recent weeks. The latest amendment, allowing all counties to mandate a second COVID-19 test, was made within 48 hours of the program’s launch.

Lloyd and her husband researched the testing partners for hours, drove to hard-to-reach testing sites and spent hundreds of dollars in the process of obtaining COVID-19 tests ahead of their flight home from a Silicon Valley, Calif., trip.

“We had three tests done hoping that one of the three will come back in time,” Lloyd said.

Two of the three tests were done with state-approved partners, an airline and a drug store. They were the least professional and hardest-to-access testing sites, she said.

Lloyd said she hopes the state evaluates its testing partners and expands to more professional ones.

In Oregon, Kula resident Matthew Pires said the program has been confusing, especially with all the changes in recent days.

“Just too many changes in a short period of time,” he said Wednesday.

Pires said he’s hoping the test he took Tuesday afternoon qualifies to bypass the state’s 14-day mandatory quarantine. He’s scheduled to arrive at Kahului Airport tonight.

Also in Oregon, Jenna Miller, a Pukalani resident scheduled to fly home Friday, said she had to drive 40 minutes Wednesday to get tested by an approved Hawaii partner. She added that the testing, done through her Kaiser Permanente insurance carrier, was fairly easy and painless.

KAHULUI AIRPORT PREPS

The leader of Maui’s main airport advised travelers to allow extra time and patience today and in coming weeks as the state rolls out its program. Seen as a way to reopen Hawaii’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism, the plan has been pushed back multiple times due to COVID-19 surges on Oahu and on the Mainland.

“It may require extra time for TSA and airlines to process the additional requirements,” Moniz said.

Ahead of the pre-travel testing program, Kahului Airport has been bolstering its state Department of Transportation staff, adding about 20 workers. Most will be designated for screening. Others will be stationed around terminals to answer questions about car rentals, hotels, quarantine, testing and other topics, Moniz said Wednesday.

Security personnel also have been increased.

Moniz said the airport will be going from three to 10 trans-Pacific flights per day beginning today. In November, that number will ramp up more.

Incoming trans-Pacific flights today and in the next few days are full, the airlines told Moniz. He said the airport is anticipating about 1,000 to 1,100 people arriving today and possibly 1,300 per day in the next week, though projections from the airlines and the pre-travel testing sites vary, he said. Some passengers may cancel trips because their locations may not have many Hawaii testing partners and others may change plans at the last minute due to obtaining the wrong test, he added.

The airport has been averaging 200 to 300 arrivals per day from the Mainland and another 250 to 300 per day interisland, he said.

Hawaii Tourism Authority’s most recent data said that August arrivals to Maui dropped 99 percent from the same month last year — 2,341 in 2020 compared to 273,638 in 2019.

Trans-Pacific air capacity for the state in August dropped 85 percent to 179,570 seats, including a 95 percent reduction to 12,759 seats to Maui.

County Managing Director Sandy Baz said that travelers will be met at the airport with posters and other informational material to inform them about Maui County COVID-19 rules, such as face mask mandates. He added that the county is working with lodging and short-term rental associations to keep visitors informed.

“Guests need to follow our rules,” Baz said Wednesday during the county news conference. “They may be coming from areas that don’t have the same restrictions, but they will have to follow our restrictions when they are in our county.”

Overall, Moniz said that he is optimistic about the program’s launch and the airport’s preparation.

“I feel good in the sense that we have to start somewhere,” he said. “If everyone does their part, we should be OK. Obviously, patience will be critical for the first few weeks until a lot of gaps are filled.”

LAST-MINUTE CHANGES

Some rules have been clear for some time, but others have changed at the last minute and are bogging down the program, travelers say.

All travelers who do not provide a pre-departure test will be ordered to quarantine for 14 days or the length of their stay, whichever is shorter. In other words, people cannot test out of the quarantine once they arrive.

If test results aren’t available on arrival, travelers must quarantine at their place of lodging until a negative result is submitted and verified by the state.

However, in the weeks ahead of the program’s launch, many of the details for the trans-Pacific and the interisland programs were changing.

Despite all counties having the option to “opt out” of the state program, each one will be participating in the trans-Pacific program starting today. However, there are three iterations of the much-debated second COVID-19 test.

Neighbor Island counties have pushed to mandate a second test, but Gov. David Ige shut down Maui’s and Kauai’s requests, only to grant Hawaii island’s application. A week later and less than 48 hours from the program’s launch, Ige allowed each county the option to make a second test voluntary or mandatory — but the county, not the traveler, will have to foot the bill.

Maui and Kauai counties decided that their trans-Pacific travelers will be encouraged to take a voluntary second test about two or three days after arrival, with incentives, such as coupons and discounts. Go to Oahu and no second test is necessary. But, head to the Big Island and it’s mandatory — the county will administer a COVID-19 antigen test on arrival.

Along with the state’s trans-Pacific program, Maui and Kauai begin their inter-county travel testing program today. Arrivals from other Hawaii islands may bypass the 14-day quarantine with the same trans-Pacific pretesting protocol.

A partial interisland quarantine was reinstated for anyone traveling to Kauai, Hawaii, Maui and Kalawao counties on Aug. 11. Exemptions were allowed for essential reasons, such as work or health care.

Interisland arrivals on Oahu do not need to quarantine.

The interisland quarantine remained in effect for arrivals on Hawaii island as of Wednesday.

Also starting today, travelers — residents or nonresidents — may move without quarantine or pre-testing between Maui, Lanai and Molokai. Maui County leaders recently received state approval to lift restrictions on travel within the county.

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

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