New rule on negative test before flying starts today

Policy could cut processing time at Kahului Airport

Arriving passengers stand in line while waiting to be screened at Kahului Airport on Oct. 15, the day the state’s pre-travel testing program launched allowing trans-Pacific travelers who brought proof of a negative COVID-19 test to bypass the mandatory 14-day quarantine. Those who didn’t have their results upon arrival had to quarantine until results came in. However, starting today, passengers who want to bypass quarantine will need to present proof of a negative test from a trusted partner before departing for Hawaii. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Beginning today, travelers who want to bypass the 14-day mandatory quarantine must have their negative COVID-19 test from a trusted testing partner prior to departing for the Aloha State.

Not only will the key change make the state’s pre-arrival testing program safer but it will also cut down processing time at Maui’s main airport, an official said Monday night.

Maui Airports District Manager Marvin Moniz said Kahului Airport has been averaging 45 minutes of post-arrival processing time per flight — down from about 120 minutes when the program launched in mid-October.

With passengers who have proof of their negative test ready to go, screening time will be reduced.

“More people with negatives would reduce that time — we could go down to a half hour per flight and two or three minutes per person,” Moniz said.

Ahead of the holiday season and due to the surge in cases on the U.S. Mainland and around the world, Gov. David Ige announced last week that travelers to Hawaii must have their negative test results before departure to avoid quarantine.

If results are pending, and not available before boarding the final leg, the traveler must quarantine for 14 days or the length of the stay, whichever is shorter.

The new policy applies to domestic trans-Pacific flights and international flights departing from locations in which Hawaii’s pre-testing programs are in place. It does not apply to intercounty travelers.

Travelers heading to Hawaii must upload their negative nucleic acid amplification test result to the Safe Travels system prior to departure or, as an alternative to uploading, bring a hard copy of their negative test result with them when boarding their flight, according to a state news release issued Monday night.

“The State of Hawaii highly recommends that all trans-Pacific travelers departing for Hawaii carry a hard copy of their negative test result as a backup,” it said.

The pre-travel testing plan is one layer of the state’s mandatory Safe Travels Hawaii program, which includes health screening and obtaining a QR code for results. Information can be found at travel.hawaii.gov and hawaii covid19.com.

Moniz said the change will bolster the safety of the program, since people with positive COVID-19 tests likely won’t board the flight just to be sent home or to be forced into quarantine.

“I think it will keep our cases down, whatever cases are associated with travel,” he said.

The supervisor said that with the recent spike in cases on the Mainland, tests are in higher demand and therefore more pending tests have been coming through Kahului Airport. He estimated that fewer than a quarter of the passengers over the last week have had pending results.

Also, more hotels, transportation and other visitor industry businesses are requiring proof of negative COVID-19 tests before allowing travelers to use services or accommodations, according to Moniz.

During his announcement last week, Ige said the policy will keep both residents and visitors safe.

“We are implementing this added layer of safety in response to the dramatically increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the continental United States and around the world,” Ige said. “The health of our residents and visitors is our primary concern, especially as more people travel to our state during the holidays.”

Moniz said the holiday season will be a mixed bag for Maui. Initially, flights looked full around Thanksgiving but due to recent Mainland warnings against travel, reservations are in flux, he said.

Trans-Pacific flights to Maui are between 29 and 31 daily, up from 10 when the pre-travel testing program launched Oct. 15, according to Moniz.

On Sunday, 3,255 trans-Pacific travelers arrived at the Kahului Airport, including 2,597 who said they came for pleasure/vacation and 150 returning residents, according to the Hawaii COVID-19 Joint Information Center.

Moniz said he would like to have 26 post-arrival stations during the holidays. The airport currently has 18 stations.

Just how soon the airport will see faster post-arrival screening due to negative test uploads remains to be seen, Moniz said.

“We won’t know until we start processing when they arrive,” he said. “There is no processing on the outbound. We are pretty confident that the airlines are telling them you have to have a negative test before you get on the aircraft.”

In other travel-related news, Hawaiian Airlines on Monday announced it is offering drive-thru and walk-up COVID-19 pre-flight tests for its passengers traveling to Hawaii from Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Portland and Seattle.

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


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