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Hawaii Gov. David Ige might again delay start of pre-arrivals testing program to reopen tourism

Gov. David Ige today said he is looking at delaying the start of a pre-arrivals testing program again, but stopped short of announcing a new date.

The testing program would allow travelers who have taken an approved COVID-19 test within 72 hours of traveling to Hawaii to bypass a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for out-of state passengers that’s been in place since March 26. Last month, Ige delayed it from Aug. 1 to at least Sept. 1.

His latest waffling comes as new COVID-19 cases in Hawaii hit a single-day record of 355, bringing the count of active infections in Hawaii to 2,556. Altogether, since the pandemic started there have been 4,312 cases. Two more deaths today brought the total death count since the pandemic to 40.

While the state’s total case count relative to other states remains low,today marked the eleventh day in a row that state Department of Health officials reported triple-digit rises, with most of the new cases on Oahu.

“With the case count increasing the way it has, it would be very difficult to implement and start the pre-travel testing program on Sept. 1,” Ige said during a press briefing this afternoon. “But we have not made that decision. We do want to see another few days of data to see what the impact of the increased restrictions have been on Oahu.”

It has been about a week since the state reinstated various restrictions aimed at improving social distancing. On Tuesday,Ige also restarted a partial mandatory 14-day interisland self-quarantine for those arriving on the counties of Kauai, Hawaii island, Maui and Kalawao.

“We hope that these measures will help control the virus. But if things do not get better, we will have no choice but to look at more restrictions. This could include going back to the stay-at-home orders,” Ige said. “It also means that we may have to delay trans-Pacific travel. I know that going backwards will cause further harm to our economy, but we may have no choice. Before we can fix our economy, we need to fix our health.”

The state’s emergency order does provide exemptions that allow some out-of-state passengers, especially essential workers, to bypass the quarantine. However, most arriving passengers and their hosts must comply with the quarantine or face a fine of up to $5,000 and up to a year in jail.

When Ige first put the brakes on the testing program, he said it was related to the state’s community spread as well as higher COVID-19 counts on the mainland, especially in states that supply a majority of Hawaii’s tourism. The situation has worsened.

The passenger quarantine continues to exacerbate the coronavirus-related drop in travel demand. On any given day in August, about 36,000 airplane passengers, most of them visitors, usually arrive in Hawaii. The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported today that on Wednesday only 526 of the 2,023 passengers arriving in Hawaii were visitors.

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