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Vaccination travel program for inter-county travel begins

Those vaccinated in Hawaii can skip out of testing, quarantine, when traveling around the islands

Noah Broderick, of Maui asks Kahului Airport security officer Manolo Martin a question at the main exit. Tuesday began the start of a state pilot program that allows travelers who were fully vaccinated in Hawaii and who are traveling interisland to bypass Safe Travels Hawaii restrictions, which includes pre-travel and post-arrival tests or a mandatory quarantine. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photos

KAHULUI– Whether traveling for work, family, school, medical appointments or other reasons in between, Hawaii residents at Kahului Airport Tuesday said the inter-county travel vaccine exemption will reduce some of the stress and delay that comes with flying during the pandemic.

Gov. David Ige signed the 20th emergency proclamation for COVID-19 on Friday, allowing fully vaccinated Hawaii residents traveling interisland to bypass Safe Travels Hawaii restrictions, which includes pre-travel and post-arrival tests or a mandatory quarantine.

“It’s way more convenient,” said Maui resident Kelsey Manglallan, who just graduated from Hawaii Pacific University and will return to Oahu to begin a master’s program this summer.

“It makes it easier to go back and forth.”

Manglallan said she just stood in the Safe Travels Hawaii check-in line after exiting the plane, showed airport officials her proof of vaccination card via the Safe Travels app and “that was it.”

Passengers leave the main exit, which is used for interisland flights, as Kahului Airport security officer Manolo Martin looks on.

“It was super easy,” she said.

Travelers are considered fully vaccinated 14 days after their shot, or second shot if the vaccine requires two doses. The individual can travel with the exemption on the 15th day.

Travelers who arrive on Kauai, Maui and Hawaii Island before they are fully vaccinated will be subject to a mandatory 10-day quarantine, unless they meet the criteria for other pre-travel testing exceptions.

Oahu does not have an interisland travel quarantine order.

The travel exemption requires proof of vaccination by uploading a digital copy or photograph to the Safe Travels online platform at travel.hawaii.gov/#/.

The state is launching the pilot program with hopes of eventually expanding the exemption to vaccinated travelers from the Mainland and international destinations.

But, like any new and developing online portal, travelers still might run into some challenges navigating the platform or uploading their vaccination cards.

“I think the technical side of things could improve because if you’re not savvy, oh my gosh, you just get that anxiety, you know? But, I think they’re trying hard. I can see effort,” said Tanya Souza, who was returning home with her husband from a memorial service on Oahu. “I think the system still has pukas. I always think about our kupuna.”

Though the couple experienced some difficulty with the vaccination exemption program this time around, they said it would “offer less anxiety,” in the long run because it would make travel much easier and safer.

Another Maui resident, Wendee Iwamasa of Kihei, also ran into some issues Tuesday, as she and her father were returning home from Nevada through a flight from Oahu.

Iwamasa did not need a post-arrival test when she arrived on Maui, but her father was given one, even though he’s vaccinated in the state.

She added that she also needed two QR codes for each of them, one for the flight from Nevada to Oahu then from Oahu to Maui. Both also got COVID-19 test clearances prior to their Nevada departure.

Overall, on the first day of the inter-county travel pilot program, many arriving passengers also told The Maui News that they had not taken advantage of the vaccine exemption. One Oahu man said, “I’m excited for it,” once he receives his second dose and can travel interisland more freely for work and visiting family.

Another couple flying in from Kona said they are more likely to travel now with their vaccination cards knowing there are no pre-travel testing requirements to plan and pay for.

Trans-Pacific or interisland travelers who are not fully vaccinated, as well as residents who are returning from the Mainland, must still present a negative COVID-19 test that was taken within 72 hours of the final leg of their trip, or quarantine for 10 days upon arrival into the state.

However, fully vaccinated trans-Pacific travelers landing on Maui, like Chad VanHeusen who flew in from Oakland, are exempt from the post-arrival COVID-19 test. Though, he said that he didn’t mind “jumping all the hoops‚” to travel to the island safely.

Completing the Safe Travels Hawaii testing program requirements combined with the vaccine passport guidelines is “relatively easy if you’re prepared,” VanHeusen said.

About a third of passengers that came through the Kahului Airport Tuesday showed their vaccination cards and majority of the interisland travelers were relieved that they no longer have to pay for costly COVID-19 tests, said Maui District Airports Manager Marvin Moniz.

The first day went “fairly well,” he said, though there were a few minor setbacks among some out-of-state residents who weren’t aware that the vaccination card exemption is geared toward people who were vaccinated in Hawaii only.

“A little confusion there, but the people who were able to upload their cards, it worked out great, and the timing of everything was fairly quick,” Moniz said. “The travelers who we got to speak with were happy and satisfied with the process.”

Tuesdays are typically slower traveling days, seeing mostly commuters, which helped airport officials ease into new operations, Moniz said. By the end of the week, they should be ready to handle a large flow of travelers.

Moniz said that Kahului Airport officials will continue to monitor the pilot program and adjust if needed, and make sure staffing levels are sufficient to meet the growing vaccination exemptions.

For assistance with login or technical issues, call the Safe Travels Program at (800) GOHAWAII or (800) 464-2924 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time.

For more information about travel, visit https://hawaiicovid19.com/travel/getting-to-hawaii/.

Staff Writer Kehaulani Cerizo contributed to this report.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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