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Maui won’t opt out of pre-travel testing program

County sees uptick in travel-related cases over last month

Despite an uptick in travel-related COVID-19 cases in Maui County this month, Mayor Michael Victorino confirmed that he isn’t yet considering any moves to opt out of the state’s pre-travel testing program.

“As far as opting out, I’m not exactly ready to opt out,” Victorino said Wednesday during a county news conference.

Maui County moved from 6 percent (3 percent residents and 3 percent visitors) in October to 44 percent in November (19 percent residents and 25 percent visitors) being linked to travel, according to state Department of Health data.

There were 133 cases in October. November has had 104 cases so far.

After participating in the state’s pre-travel testing program that began Oct. 15 as a way for travelers to bypass quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test, Kauai is now seeking to opt out due to a spike in travel-related cases on the island.

With surges on the U.S. Mainland and elsewhere, Gov. David Ige enacted Tuesday a mandate that tightens rules on the state’s pre-travel testing program by prohibiting pending negative tests from quarantine exemption. Now, only travelers who can provide a negative COVID-19 test before the final leg to Hawaii may be exempt from the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Victorino expressed optimism Wednesday over the program’s tighter rules, along with his bid for a mandated second test, as reasons to continue on the current path.

“I’m looking at how the new rule that mandates the negative test before you get on a plane, as well as the secondary test here that I’m asking the governor to consider mandating a second test, which he’s now very seriously considering, might be another added tool to the toolbox of preventing COVID-19 from spreading from those coming from outside,” he said.

However, Victorino noted that residents must do their part by wearing masks, distancing and practicing good hygiene.

Over the last few months, Maui County COVID-19 cases have been overwhelmingly linked to community associations, according to state data.

Eighty-eight percent of August’s 171 cases; 91 percent of September’s 50 cases; and 94 percent of October’s 133 cases are community associated. That changed with the launch of the pre-travel testing program that prompted residents and visitors to start flying more. So far in November, 57 percent of the cases are community associated.

“We are looking and watching very closely,” Victorino said. “If the numbers hit certain parts on our tier chart, we would consider going from where we are now to maybe safer at home or stay at home — we won’t hesitate to make moves.”

“I am optimistic, but we will see what happens over the next week or so,” he added later.

The state announced Wednesday afternoon that the surveillance study of the Safe Travels Hawaii program is moving from a data collection phase into an assessment phase.

Officials found 45 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases out of 20,253 tests (or 2.2 per 1,000) done from the evaluation testing program’s launch on Oct. 19 through Tuesday.

The results included both sampled participants and participants from Hawaii island in which all people were included.

“Preliminary analysis suggests that the sampling program, which had a large no show, many have created an upward sampling bias in the program’s case rate estimates,” a news release from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said. “This will be more thoroughly assessed in the final report.”

The news release also said that “very preliminary data analysis revealed a very strong risk for COVID-19 infection in returning residents relative to visitors.” When asked for more details, a HIEMA spokesperson said Wednesday afternoon that “that data point is currently being analyzed and confirmed by Dr. DeWolfe Miller, and will be in the final report issued in the near future.”

Miller, an epidemiologist from the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine, and his team will now be assessing data and compile a report to assist state leadership and policymakers in “making informed decisions regarding the Safe Travels Hawaii pre-travel testing program.”

“We are very pleased with the surveillance study and it has extreme merit in assessing the Safe Travels Hawaii pre-travel testing program,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green said in the announcement. “We look forward to delivering a completed report to our state and county leadership so they can make data-based decisions on the best way to move the program forward and manage Hawaii’s COVID-19 response.”

Other COVID-19 updates for Maui County include the following:

• There have been no new cases for Lanai in 11 days, and county officials said the island is poised to move to the Act with Care phase once its current Safer at Home order expires Nov. 30. “We remain cautious and continue testing,” said county Managing Director Sandy Baz. Maui and Molokai remain under the Act with Care phase. Lanai, however, was shut down after an outbreak spread from the rural island’s first known cases to more than 100 over a couple of weeks.

• Lanai residents with Thanksgiving vouchers may pick up gift certificates from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday at the Lanai Council Office.

• Surge testing via eTrueNorth will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the South Maui Community Park, 1501 Liloa Drive, Kihei. For information and to register, visit doineedacovid19test.com.

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

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