Let the testing begin.
Gov. David Ige green-lighted a passenger testing program today that would allow passengers starting Aug. 1 with approved negative COVID-19 tests to bypass the state’s mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for out-of state passengers.
The out-of-state quarantine, which is in effect through July 31 and is expected to be extended, will continue to apply to passengers who do not produce a negative COVID-19 test.
Ige made the announcement at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, where he was flanked by Lt. Governor Josh Green, Senate President Ronald Kouchi Speaker of the House Scott Saiki, Maui County Mayor Mike Victorino, Honolulu Mayor I Kirk Caldwell, and Dr. Bruce Anderson, state Department of Health director.
The changes are expected to roll back some of the economic damages to Hawaii that were caused by the collapse of Hawaii tourism, which began free-falling after Ige ordered a 14-day travel quarantine for out-of-state arrivals starting March 26, and expanded it to interisland travelers April 1.
The quarantines weren’t very appealing to travelers who were required to confine themselves in a designated location for two weeks after arriving in Hawaii or face up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
The reopening of out-of-state tourism to Hawaii can’t come soon enough for most members of the state’s visitor industry or for lockdown critics, including the U.S. Department of Justice, that have stated the out-of-state quarantine violates the U.S. Constitution because it discriminates against out-of-state residents in a manner that harms Hawaii’s economy.
The DOJ filed a statement of interest Tuesday challenging the constitutionality of Ige’s COVID-19 out-of-state passenger quarantine order, which it says discriminates against out-of-state residents in a manner that harms Hawaii’s economy.
Ige lifted the interisland passenger quarantine June 16. However, his administration struggled to pull the trigger on the broad reopening of tourism because of the intricacies required to balance the urgency of reopening Hawaii’s economy against the risk that more freedom could bring a second wave of COVID-19 cases.
Others, particularly members of Hawaii’s medical community and some lawmakers, have urged continued caution. Anderson and State Epidemiologist Sarah Park have warned lawmakers that COVID-19 tests are not foolproof and that some coronavirus cases will get into Hawaii despite testing, thermal screening and contact tracing.
A report from the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization entitled “Prevention of Travel-related Reintroduction of COVID-19 Infection in the State of Hawaii,” also urged incorporating testing along with thermal screening to keep Hawaii’s COVID-19 infections under control.
The UHERO report said screening air passengers for high temperatures and COVID-19 symptoms in their departure city would only remove about a third of infectious passengers from Hawaii flights. But if Hawaii also tested air passengers for COVID-19 infection with an RT-PCR test in their departure city, the UHERO report estimates that would remove another 80-90% of infectious passengers from flights to Hawaii.
Allowing passengers with negative COVID-19 cases to bypass the out-of-state passenger quarantine is the only way Hawaii can begin recovering tourism, which pre-pandemic supplied 17% of the state’s GDP and supported more than 216,000 jobs. In 2019, 10.4 million visitor arrivals brought nearly $18 billion in visitor spending and $2 billion in taxes to Hawaii.
But Ige’s quarantine orders collapsed Hawaii tourism by exacerbating the already negative impacts of stay-at-home orders and declining travel demand amid COVID-19 fears.
Only 4,564 visitors traveled to Hawaii in April , according to HTA preliminary statistics.That was a 99.5% drop compared with a year ago when 856,250 visitors came by air and cruise ship.
The lifting of the interisland quarantine has bolstered Hawaii tourism slightly, but not much. Only 409 visitors were among the 1,512 passengers that flew into Hawaii today.
Normally in June, the state gets 35,000 passengers a day, most of them visitors. For the entire month of June 2019, when Hawaii tourism was still in growth mode, visitor arrivals rose about 6% to 951,628 and non-seasonally adjusted spending rose nearly 3% to $1.64 billion compared to a year prior.
Tourism demand is not expected to return to pre-COVID-19 levels for some time. However, the new testing protocol is expected to allow Hawaii’s visitor industry to capitalize on some of the pent-up demand for summer travel, normally a peak tourism season for the state.
Gov. David Ige is holding a livestreamed press conference at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport at 2:30 p.m. to discuss trans-Pacific travel to Hawaii.
Other expected speakers are:
>> Lt. Gov. Josh Green
>> Senate President Ron Kouchi
>> Speaker of the House Scott Saiki
>> Maui County Mayor Mike Victorino
>> Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell
>> Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson
The Star-Advertiser previously reported that Ige was close to announcing a trans-Pacific coronavirus testing protocol and loosened quarantine rules.
Watch the video from Ige’s Facebook page above.