U.S. mainlanders have been waiting months for Hawaii to follow through with its long-delayed tourism reopening and pre-travel testing program, which enables travelers to bypass quarantine with a valid, negative COVID-19 test.
When that day finally came yesterday, roughly 8,000 visitors reportedly arrived in the Aloha State ready for some sunshine and relaxation.
Concerns remain about whether Hawaii is really ready to welcome back tourists, a percentage of whom, despite testing efforts, could still be introducing new COVID-19 cases onto the islands.
Critics argue that a single test taken within 72 hours of arrival, combined with the option of flying to Hawaii without testing and quarantining instead, isn’t adequate enough protection from importing fresh infection.
Proponents, including the state’s Lieutenant Governor Josh Green, say that the economic strain of keeping Hawaii closed to outsiders cannot be borne much longer and outweighs the potential health risks. He has argued that visitors aren’t the problem, but that increased adherence to safety protocols, such as mask-wearing, social distancing and elevated hygiene practices, is the key to containing COVID-19—tourists or no.
Green’s solution is a surveillance program that will conduct random, compulsory follow-up testing on approximately ten percent of visitors four days after their arrival. Some county mayors, who maintain that this isn’t a strong enough safeguard for their communities, appealed to Governor David Ige for authorization to allow their islands to require secondary tests of tourists after their arrival.
After much debate in the days leading up to the October 15 pre-travel testing program launch date, Ige ultimately said that mayors could enforce certain secondary testing measures on their individual islands, but that the counties would have to assume the costs and figure out the logistics of these programs on their own.
The Big Island received permission to mandate that arrivals take a rapid antigen test when they arrive at the airport, which produces results within about 15 minutes. Anyone whose rapid test results show positive will be immediately required to take a more accurate PCR test and must remain quarantined until its results become available, usually within 36 hours.
That’s in addition to the statewide requirement of individual results of a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) administered by one of Hawaii's trusted partners within 72 hours of passengers’ arrival that’s needed to bypass the standard 14-day quarantine.
“This second test upon arrival to Hawaii island will provide an extra layer of protection for our community,” Big Island Mayor Kim said in a statement Monday, according to AP News . “Virtually, all medical and coronavirus experts agree for the necessity of more than one test.”
Maui and Kauai went with the option of offering voluntary second testing to out-of-state visitors. On Oahu , home to the state capital of Honolulu and Hawaii’s most populous island—where the COVID-19 positivity rate this week reached nearly four percent—officials said that they want to implement another layer of screening for arrivals, but do not yet have the testing capacity.