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Travel plans not in sync

Gov. David Ige announced plans Tuesday to start an intercounty travel program that sounds a lot like a precursor to COVID-19 vaccine passports. Interisland travelers who can prove they are fully vaccinated will get to skip testing and quarantine starting May 11.

Also recently, Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino called for all trans-Pacific travelers to be subject to a second COVID-19 test after arrival at Kahului Airport. He said Maui’s recent surge in cases warrants the secondary tests.

Not for the first time during this pandemic, our governor and mayor do not appear to be on the same page. For both plans, the devil will be in the details.

Ige’s travel program takes a carrot-and-stick approach to encouraging vaccinations. The carrot is ease of travel. The stick is maintaining restrictions on folks hesitant to be vaccinated. Wary travelers will not be able to travel as freely as the vaccinated. It will also be more expensive.

As a proponent of COVID-19 vaccines, we see the upside to Ige’s plan. California’s sprawling public university system has already announced it will require all students to be vaccinated to attend classes in the fall. Other states and organizations are sure to follow suit. Do not be surprised if concert and sporting venues soon require or reward proof of vaccination.

Having already seen signs railing against vaccine passports during an anti-mask rally last month in Kahului, we do not expect opponents to go down without a fight. Ige and his team will face many obstacles.

A big challenge will be implementing a system that accurately lists those who have been vaccinated. The current cardstock vaccination cards could easily be forged. There will have to be a way for digital confirmation, like state-issued QR codes for phones or IDs. Our health care workers have been doing a great job getting shots into arms. Have they been just as diligent inputting those names and numbers into a database the state and counties can securely tap? There is much work to be done before May 11.

Victorino’s well-intentioned testing plan prompts many questions. Primarily, how do you open up the economy and keep everybody safe at the same time? Vaccines protect a wide swath of our elderly community and now younger people are getting their jabs. Even so, COVID is something we’re going to be dealing with for years to come. Can we learn to continually walk that tightrope without growing lax during good times or overreacting in bad?

We’re concerned about the lines and frustration a full-scale testing program will cause at the airport. How much will it cost? Could the county start by testing a smaller percentage of arrivals to first get a gauge of the situation?

It’s unfortunate everyone can’t be tested and cleared before they board the plane. Let’s hope Maui’s infection numbers continue to drop and this second-test proposal becomes unnecessary.

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