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Victorino seeks mandatory post-arrival test for travelers

Higher cases, faster-moving variants cited for request

Arriving passengers stand in line while waiting to be screened at the Kahului Airport on Oct. 15, the day the state launched its pre-travel testing program allowing passengers to bypass quarantine if they could produce a negative COVID-19 test. Following a recent spike in cases, Mayor Michael Victorino said that he has submitted a request to Gov. David Ige to allow Maui County to require a second test for arriving residents and visitors. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Citing fast-moving variants sweeping the island, Mayor Michael Victorino on Wednesday said a second test may be mandated come mid-April for returning residents and visitors to Maui County.

Victorino said during the county news conference that he submitted a request to Gov. David Ige’s office that a post-arrival rapid COVID-19 test be implemented. With approval, the post-arrival test could be launched the second or third week of April, he added.

Before the state’s Safe Travels program rolled out last year, Victorino had asked for a second test to be mandated and the governor declined.

Victorino said Wednesday that the difference with this request is that the county’s numbers are higher now and he anticipates a favorable response from the governor.

Acting state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said during the news conference that more than half of Maui’s cases are linked to California variants, which are “more transmissible.”

The state’s Safe Travels program launched Oct. 15 to allow travelers with a negative nucleic acid amplification test result from a trusted partner to bypass quarantine. For more than six months, travel to Hawaii had been largely suppressed by Gov. David Ige’s mandate that travelers on arrival must undergo a two-week self-quarantine to curb spread.

When the program began, Hawaii island implemented a second rapid test upon arrival. Victorino said Wednesday that model will be used.

The mayor’s announcement comes on the heels of a study from Maui’s head state Department of Health official who said Hawaii’s travel-related positivity rate may be higher than initially thought.

The report, which has not been peer reviewed, said that seven out of 1,000 travelers who bypass quarantine via Hawaii’s Safe Travels program probably have COVID-19.

State officials had said that fewer than one out of 1,000 travelers using the pre-testing plan will likely bring the illness.

“Fix the Safe Travels a little bit so it’s a little more rigorous,” Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang, one of the doctors behind the study, said on Monday. “If people don’t believe it, just do a post-arrival study like we did. You either believe it or you don’t.”

With concerns over travelers who are incubating or people infected after pre-travel testing or during transit, Maui doctors Pang and Amy Hou led a rapid field study late last year. The state Department of Health Maui District Office, state Department of Transportation and Maui County Medical Society partnered to conduct the study and enrolled participants from Nov. 20 to Nov. 30 at five departure gates of Kahului Airport.

Published March 8, the study recommends that the Safe Travels Program implement another layer of protection beyond just a single pre-travel test.

Travelers with COVID-19 are not always recorded with the DOH as a travel-related case, Pang said, because most won’t know they have COVID-19 unless they become severely ill after arrival and seek medical attention.

“But you know it’s there,” he said. “The thing that really reinforces it is because of the variant. The travelers brought in the Californian variant. We could see it rise in Maui over the last 10 weeks when it first came.”

Victorino said Wednesday evening that the study did not impact his decision to request a mandatory second test.

“Our decision to conduct additional testing of arrivals coming into Maui was made after discussions with General Hara, Dr. Char, Dr. Miller, Lt. Governor Green and others who felt it was prudent in light of the unknown impact of variants coming into the state,” he said via email. “We have been collaborating with the state to develop a plan that was submitted to Governor Ige for his consideration and approval. I am aware of Dr. Pang’s study but I am not trained in medical science, so I defer to medical experts to comment on the quality of his study.”

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

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