Gov. David Ige today set Oct. 15 as the new date to launch a pre-arrivals testing program to reopen tourism in Hawaii.
Now the state’s woebegone industry is hoping the third time will be the charm.
The plan, first announced in June, was originally going to launch Aug. 1 before Ige pushed it back to Sept. 1, and then Oct. 1, at the earliest.
“This pre-travel testing will allow us to add a greater element of safety for travel into our state,” Ige said, adding that it fits into the state’s plan to address it’s top three challenges which are to protect public health, revise the economy and strengthen the community.
During today’s media briefing, Ige also announced a new leadership team to oversee the State’s oft-criticized public health response to COVID-19. Maj. Gen. Ken Hara, Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency Director, will spearhead collaboration between federal, state and county resources in his role as incident commander.
Dr. Libby Char, who started today as state Department of Health director, will manage the state’s public health programs ensuring that there is collaboration between state, county, and private healthcare partners. Char replaces former DOH director Bruce Anderson who retired yesterday after weeks of calls for his resignation or firing from frustrated community members and lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).
Lt. Gov. Josh Green is taking charge of the state’s pre-travel testing program and the state’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy.
“This new leadership team gives us a stronger operational structure, stronger leadership, and clears the way for stronger partnerships between the public and private sectors,” Ige said.
Demonstrating that Hawaii’s public health response is robust is going to be important to getting some members of the community to accept any plan that creates a pathway to increasing tourism.
To be sure, some Hawaii residents that appreciated the tourism dampening that resulted from the trans-Pacific quarantine both from a public health standpoint and from a sustainability standpoint. Prior to COVID-19, resident sentiment toward tourism was at its lowest level ever.
However, much of the state has been hurting as the drop in visitor arrivals has decimated the state’s tourism-dependent economy. The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported that July visitor arrivals had dropped 98%. Even with a fairly robust January and February, arrivals through the first seven months of this year had decreased by 65%.
Members of Hawaii’s visitor industry are concerned about the impact of another two-week pause in the start of Hawaii’s pre-arrivals testing program on Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy. However, if Ige’s new date sticks, this latest news is not the worst-case scenario many visitor industry businesses had feared, as Ige’s other delays were month-long push backs.
The testing program allows travelers who have taken an FDA approved COVID-19 NAAT test from a CLIA lab and tested negative 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.
Today’s actions did not change the interisland quarantine, which remains in place through at least Oct. 15 for anyone arriving on any island other than Oahu.
More more information, visit the frequently asked questions at hawaiicovid19.com.
Green, who has COVID-19 and joined the press conference while quaratining at home, said the state has set up partnerships with Kaiser Permanente and CVS Pharmacy, who will now be updating their websites with information for Hawaii travelers now that the state has a firm date.
Green said most tests will cost $120 to $140 per person, but that Kaiser is considering making the test free for its members.
He said an accepted pre-arrival test would be required of all arriving passengers, who want to bypass the quarantine, including children of all ages. Green said travelers who don’t receive the results of their pre-arrivals test in time must stay in quarantine until they get their results back.
Ige said those traveling to the island would need to get a test prior to arrival to bypass the quarantine.
“Initially we don’t want to compete with the local ability to test, but we are looking at all of these new tests that are coming online and getting FDA approval and we will be finding those that are most effective and working them into our testing program.”
However, Green said the state will work with the state Department of Health to make tweaks to the pre-arrivals testing program as cheaper, quicker tests that are reliable become available. Additionally, Green said the state Department of Transportation has issued a request for proposals to find a partner to increase the state’s testing capacity by 13,000 tests a day.
“Having extra thousands and thousands of tests will be very valuable,” Green said. “Once we’ve streamlined this we’ll rely on the governor’s wisdom to decide if we need to expand our testing as people come.”
Green said enhanced testing capacity, especially if easier and cheaper tests become available, also might be a way to implement a second test requirement to ensure travelers who come to the islands don’t test positive after the 72-hour window.
While the state works on its pre-arrivals testing program and a master plan to reopen Hawaii tourism, the counties have begun making contingency plans.
Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said Tuesday that Gov. David Ige had signed Kauai’s Emergency Rule 16, which would permit visitors at participating resorts to leave their hotel rooms to utilize the resort’s property, including pools and on-site restaurants, during their mandatory quarantine period.
But there’s a catch: They’ve got to agree to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet, which will be tracked by participating resorts.
Kauai was the first county to obtain Ige’s approval on a resort bubble order, since the governor signed an order Aug. 20 allowing the counties to formulate resort bubble plans.
Establishing resort bubbles on Kauai might bolster tourism, but Kawakami told the Star-Advertiser Tuesday that they more importantly serve as a contingency plan to keep tourism from having to completely shut down in the event of another COVID-19 surge.
“You should be working on contingency plans concurrently with the master plan,” he said. “In this kind of situation, you can expect things to go wrong.”
Watch a replay of Ige’s media briefing below, or go to Gov. Ige’s Facebook page.