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Maui County to require second, post-arrival COVID-19 test

Mayor: Goal is to see if travelers connected to spike in cases

Travelers pass through the Kahului Airport in early February. Maui County received approval from Gov. David Ige this week to require a second, post-arrival test for travelers coming from the Mainland directly to Maui. Mayor Michael Victorino said Wednesday said that it will take about 10 business days to get the program in place. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Maui County will soon require a second COVID-19 test upon arrival in hopes of learning how many traveling residents and visitors are contributing to cases on Maui.

Trans-Pacific travelers participating in the Safe Travels program — which allows travelers to bypass quarantine with a negative test from a trusted partner — will be subject to a rapid COVID-19 test upon arrival at the Kahului Airport, Mayor Michael Victorino said during a news conference Wednesday.

The new rule will apply to anyone traveling directly from the Mainland to Maui. Those who refuse will be subject to the mandatory 10-day quarantine.

“This secondary test has been designed to determine if visitors and returning residents are contributing to the large rate of COVID-19 here in Maui,” Victorino said.

Victorino added that the county is in the process of hiring a company to administer the rapid tests and that the program may take about 10 working days to put into place.

“We’ve been working on it and I think we have it pretty much up,” he said. “Now it’s a matter of getting the machinery, the personnel trained and all of that. That all needs to be put in place, and we’re hoping we can do that in the next 10 working days, which will take us toward the end of April.”

Maui County is currently seeing 24 new cases a day and a 3.2 percent test positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average, according to state Department of Health data. Oahu, meanwhile, has been recording 58 new cases a day and a 2 percent positivity rate. Gov. David Ige said earlier this week that the recent high rate of cases on Maui and Oahu are part of the reason why the state isn’t ready to move forward yet with a vaccine passport program that would allow fully vaccinated people to travel without testing or quarantine.

While the majority of cases on Maui have been linked to community spread, local health officials have expressed concerns that more cases are associated with travel than previously thought since the launch of the pre-travel testing program in October.

A study conducted in November by Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang, Dr. Amy Hou, the state departments of Health and Transportation and the Maui County Medical Society found that two out of 281 travelers who consented to a second test at the Kahului Airport ended up being positive for COVID-19, an estimated positivity rate of seven cases per 1,000 travelers. This was higher than the rate of one case per 1,000 travelers that Lt. Gov. Josh Green anticipated before the program’s launch and above the rate of 2.2 cases per 1,000 travelers that a Safe Travels evaluation calculated from among 20,253 travelers from October to November.

The study recommended that the Safe Travels program implement another layer of protection beyond just a single pre-travel test.

Maui County has been offering free voluntary testing for travelers upon arrival and has so far administered 31,547 tests with 797 positive results — a test positivity rate of 2.5 percent, Deputy Managing Director Josiah Nishita said Wednesday.

Victorino recently asked Gov. David Ige to allow the county to require a second test and received approval on Tuesday.

When asked what the county would do if it found higher rates of travel-related cases through the mandatory second test, Victorino said he would wait to see the results first.

“As we do this program, and I believe we’ll find it to be, the rates will probably be what other studies have said,” he said. “But let’s say it’s not, and it’s different. Then we need to maybe look at going up a tier. Instead of Tier 3 go back to Tier 2 which is ‘safer at home.’ Again, until we do the testing and get the facts on the table, I’ll reserve any comments other than we will look at it as the results come in and we see the actual statistics.”

He said that the program could take time to implement and face some challenges early on, especially at times when multiple flights arrive at Kahului at once.

“So everyone be patient, you know, we need to work on that,” he said. “The county is willing to do it. We’re willing to cover the cost to get that to make sure our returning residents and visitors are tested and that we know that they’re coming in safe.”

A county spokesperson could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening on what it would cost the county to fund the tests.

During the news conference, the mayor also encouraged high school seniors and other young people to get the vaccine, after the Health Department directed Neighbor Islands to expand eligibility to all residents ages 16 and older.

Youth ages 16 and 17 can receive the Pfizer vaccine only, which is offered by Maui Health at Maui Memorial Medical Center and its South Maui clinic at the Grand Wailea.

Those 18 and older can choose from Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. The DOH Maui District Health Office is offering the Moderna vaccine during ongoing clinics at the University of Hawaii Maui College and the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine at King Kekaulike High School on Saturday. Minit Medical is offering the Moderna vaccine during ongoing clinics at War Memorial Gym.

Deputy Managing Director Josiah Nishita said that Maui County will receive 12,000 more doses of vaccine this week.

Victorino said that getting the vaccine or participating in a future vaccine passport program is ultimately up to each person.

“Like anything else it is a choice,” he said. “If you don’t want to say you got fully vaccinated or you feel that’s a right not to have to be fully vaccinated and still travel, you can, but you’re automatically going to go into 10-day quarantine,” he said. “You know, there are choices. We’re giving you the choices. We’re not making the decision for you.”

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

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