Question: We’re relieved that Hawaii has finally committed to its pre-travel testing program because we have tickets for Thanksgiving that we’ve rescheduled once before. However, we are perplexed because the information we’ve found online from the state government says that to avoid quarantine (as of Oct. 15), a passenger must arrive with a negative result from “an FDA-approved NAAT test that is processed by a CLIA certified lab.” The problem is that there aren’t any “FDA-approved” tests, only tests for which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted Emergency Use Authorization. When the state says “FDA-approved,” does it mean “FDA-authorized”? It may seem like a fine point, but we don’t want to get stuck.
Answer: Yes, authorized is correct, and you weren’t the only reader asking. Kokua Line also heard Friday from prospective travelers in Washington state, California and Arizona, all seeking clarity.
Janice Okubo, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, confirmed that “authorized” was the precise term. She said that FAQs at hawaiicovid19.com/travel/ would be corrected — which they were, within a few hours of our call.
That website now says that starting Oct. 15, passengers may avoid Hawaii’s 14-day quarantine by arriving with a negative result from “any FDA-authorized NAAT test, processed by a CLIA certified laboratory that is taken no earlier than three days before your flight arrival date.”
NAAT means Nucleic Acid Amplification Test, which is administered by nasal swab. CLIA refers to the federal quality standards imposed by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988.
As you already knew, the FDA has issued Emergency Use Authorizations for diagnostic tests during the COVID-19 emergency, but not formally approved the tests; read more at fda.gov.
Another reader called asking the same question and apologized for “being nit-picky,” but no apology is necessary — the state needs to be crystal clear about the requirements. After all, the Health Department’s COVID- 19 website also says it’s “the traveler’s responsibility to confirm they are receiving the correct test.”
To the question, “What if I accidentally take the wrong test?”, the answer is, “You will be required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival and will only be allowed to leave your lodging for a medical emergency. There is no option to test upon arrival.”
Readers mentioned checking numerous Hawaii- travel related websites and seeing the incorrect phrase “FDA-approved” test. As we’ve explained, the correct term is “FDA-authorized,” and we expect other websites will follow the Health Department’s lead in correcting their information.
Q: We are scheduled to arrive in Honolulu on Oct. 13. If we get tested before we leave for Hawaii, or get tested on our own after we arrive, and our tests are negative, can we leave quarantine two days later?
A: No, you’ll need to complete the full 14-day quarantine, Okubo said. The pre- travel testing program starts Oct. 15 and doesn’t apply to travelers who arrive in Hawaii before then, she said.
Numerous readers have asked similar questions, with some indicating they would change their plane tickets to arrive after Oct. 15 if necessary.
Q: If I get the test within 72 hours of departing for Hawaii as required but the result isn’t available when I land, can I leave quarantine once it comes in?
A: Yes, assuming the result is negative. Prospective travelers say this is an improvement from the state’s earlier plan, which would have required passengers to quarantine for 14 days if they didn’t have the negative result in hand upon arrival.
Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.