The state is behind in launching a new version of a web application, Hawaii Safe Travels, to collect traveler information needed to enforce public safety measures related to the coronavirus.
The idea behind the application was that a traveler would complete an online application and receive a QR code (like a square bar code). The screener, a person at the airport who uses an iPad to read the QR code, is then able to quickly review passenger information for clearance or secondary screening.
Once a traveler’s information is in the system, it can be used by officials, including police, to check on visitors who are required to quarantine for 14 days.
The application was originally developed by Esri, a California software company, for interisland use. It was something the neighbor islands pushed for after it became clear that enforcing an interisland quarantine was difficult without access to real-time passenger information that could be shared by different agencies.
The interisland quarantine initially ran from April 1 to June 16, and the application was up and running for interisland travel in July. But it was scrapped when the state wasn’t satisfied that the application could be scaled up for trans-Pacific travel.
On July 27, the state Office of Enterprise Technology Services hired Google and its partner SpringML to develop a new Hawaii Safe Travels system at an initial cost of $638,000 in CARES Act funds. It was supposed to be done by Aug. 17. Now, the state is saying the application is in the initial release phase, which will continue to expand through the end of August.
That’s left the counties without a statewide application for the return of a partial interisland quarantine, which was restarted Aug. 11. The mandatory 14-day interisland self-quarantine, which is slated to run through Aug. 31, applies to non-exempt passengers who are traveling to the counties of Kauai, Hawaii, Maui and Kalawao.
There’s still time to get the system running for the reopening of trans-Pacific travel through a pre-arrivals testing program, which isn’t expected to start now until at least Oct.1.
However, Hawaii island Mayor Harry Kim said his county needed an active system once the interisland quarantine went back into effect. That’s why he resurrected the Esri system on Aug. 12, and will run it with the permission of the state Department of Transportation until the the Google system is ready to go.
“We have voiced our concerns repeatedly that the system in terms of knowing where the tourists are and who they are is not really workable,” Kim said. “Without a data collection system, line agents like the police weren’t getting the information until two or three days later.”
Kim said officials must have real-time visitor information to contact trace and enforce emergency orders.
Not every passenger who comes to Hawaii intends to comply with the 14-day quarantine order as evidenced by the 205 quarantine violators that the COVID-19 flight assistance program has helped to send back home since its April 6 start.
Jessica Lani Rich, executive director of the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, which runs the flight assistance program, said she’ll pay returning flights when quarantine violators don’t have the means to leave, but often just assists visitors with flight arrangements rather than providing financial support.
“Can you imagine what would have happened if these visitors, some of whom came from places like New York, California and Florida, had been COVID-19 positive and were allowed to circulate in our communities,” Rich said. “If we are on all the same page and are using the same system, I think we’ll be even more effective.”
For now, however, each county is using its own data collection system. Some of the systems are cumbersome and require contractors to scan data into computers well into the night.
The lag and lack of continuity potentially adds to the confusion that Hawaii travelers already are facing. Back in May, travelers could visit the state’s Safe Travels website, where they could digitally submit COVID-19-related travel information.
But the state abruptly removed the website without warning, leaving tourism officials inundated with calls.
Visitors to safetravels.hawaii.gov/ now get this message, “Thank you for checking in on the Safe Travels application. This site is currently in transition. People who are under the 14-day mandatory quarantine will be contacted by the COVID-19 quarantine enforcement task force via follow up calls/texts. People under quarantine are reminded to monitor their health conditions and abide by the quarantine order. If you plan to travel to Hawaii, additional information can be found by visiting hidot.hawaii.gov/coronavirus.”
Caroline Julian-Freitas, senior communications manager for the Office of Enterprise Technology Services, said the change to Google was necessary because the Esri system wasn’t suitable for trans-Pacific travel.
“ETS worked with them to convert the interisland form to use for trans-Pacific travelers and had issues related to performance of the application and insufficient progress in design and development,” Julian-Freitas said in a statement.
Google and SpringML were chosen “because of their ability to quickly develop a responsive and flexible solution that can scale up from the current 2,500 to 3,000 inbound trans-Pacific travelers,” she said.
“This effort is making use of some of the design work done during the Esri contract,” Julian-Freitas said. “Over time, new features and data elements will be added, as necessitated by evolving program requirements.”
Julian-Freitas could not immediately say what Esri had been paid or an estimate of what the state is expected to pay Google at full build-out.
She said if the Esri plan had moved forward, the total contract would have been worth $1.7 million in CARES Act funds.
Esri continues to play a role in the project by providing the platform to collect, aggregate, display and analyze data, she said.