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Gov. Ige says he’s reluctant to set COVID-19 benchmarks for reopening, closing

Gov. David Ige said the county mayors want to set explicit COVID-19 benchmarks that would trigger economic shutdown and reopening, but he favors continuing a more nuanced approach.

Ige told “Spotlight Hawaii,” the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Facebook Live show, that setting a framework for reopening Hawaii’s economy would likely be one of the topics as he meets with the county mayors today, particularly Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell whose stay-at-home emergency order for Oahu is set to expire on Thursday.

“The mayor (Caldwell) has kind of committed to create this framework so that people can see what virus activities are of concern and can anticipate what would happen,” Ige said today. “From the state level, I don’t anticipate that I would order hard metrics that would force the opening and closing just because of the metrics. I’ve been reluctant to just set these hard benchmarks because I do believe the whole issue of opening and reopening the economy is complex and we are looking at a variety of different metrics.”

By the same token, Ige said he did understand that constant cycling between “opening and closing” is unacceptable to businesses and would be working with the mayors to provide the public with greater guidance.

“I do appreciate everyone’s cooperation and all of the sacrifices made,” Ige said. “We have seen the cases flattening out and I’m hopeful it will continue on this downward trend. I know we had just double digits yesterday and I’m hoping that today would be another day below 100 cases.”

Ige said hospitals also are in a better position than they were two weeks ago and the number of COVID-19 positive patients in their facilities has dropped.

“All of the trends are heading in the right direction that would allow us to look at reopening in a thoughtful way so that business can get back to normal,” he said.

On the subject of reopening leisure travel to Hawaii, Ige said the state was still finalizing details of its pre-arrivals testing plan. The program, which is slated to kickoff Oct. 15, would allow travelers who get tested according to state protocols to bypass a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for out-of-state passengers that’s been in place since March 26.

The state has said that it would require travelers in the program to take a Food and Drug Administration-authorized COVID-19 nucleic acid amplification test from a certified lab no earlier than 72 hours before their flight arrives in Hawaii. If the test is negative and they can produce it upon arrival, they would be allowed to bypass the quarantine. If the test results don’t arrive before they get to Hawaii, travelers must quarantine in Hawaii until they can produce a negative test result.

Travelers must pay for their own pre-arrivals tests and Ige said the state won’t allow travelers to bypass the quarantine using tests taken after they get to Hawaii.

Ige acknowledged that despite the state’s partnerships with CVS and Kaiser some travelers might find getting a test within the required window difficult. Also, families could have difficulties since the state’s partners don’t offer tests to children under 12.

It’s also still unclear how the quarantine system will monitor travelers whose test results don’t come back in time or who elect not to participate in the program once the volume of travelers to Hawaii scales up.

Ige acknowledged that Hawaii’s pre-arrivals travelers plan won’t be able to keep out all infected domestic travelers as the Federal Aviation Administration won’t give the state permission to require that all passengers get COVID-19 tests before getting on a plane.

“Clearly the airlines have informed me that they are not able to require every passenger to have completed the pre-travel testing program so every flight would have a mix of those who are COVID-free, those who have taken the test, and those who may be infected and there’s no way in the U.S. to separate those passengers,” he said.

Ige said U.S. Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) is pursuing legislation that would allow Hawaii more control over the entry of domestic travelers.

Few international destinations are currently allowing travel to the U.S., but Ige said the state is working with other countries like Japan and S. Korea and they seem more willing to require that all of their Hawaii-bound passengers comply with the pre-travel program requirements.

Ige said the state also is discussing lifting the partial interisland quarantine with the mayors; however, testing capacity is still a concern when the state only has about 5,000 tests a day now and some 25,000 people a day were traveling to the Neighbor Islands before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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