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United Airlines to begin pre-travel COVID-19 testing pilot program in San Francisco for Hawaii-bound travelers

United Airlines, which brought more travelers to Hawaii than any other carrier pre-pandemic, on Oct. 15 will offer rapid COVID-19 tests to Hawaii-bound customers originating from San Francisco.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who was among those brokering the deal, said the state has agreed that customers participating in United’s pilot program may participate in the state’s pre-arrivals testing program which begins Oct. 15 and allows passengers to bypass the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine under certain conditions.

“The test is very current so it lowers the risk and it also sets a precedent where I think a lot of other airlines are going to want to do that at their airports,” Green said. “Two or three months from now this might be the standard. Going into the winter and spring of next year people may get very comfortable getting a NAAT test at the airport.”

The 14-day quarantine, which has been in place since March 26, has collapsed the state’s visitor industry, which in July saw visitor arrivals plummet 98%. As it turns out, most leisure travelers don’t want to visit Hawaii if they aren’t allowed out of their hotel room or other approved quarters for 14 days even to get food.

Under the new arrangement with United, San Francisco travelers who are Hawaii-bound may elect to take a rapid Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 test – administered by GoHealth Urgent Care and their partner Dignity Health — on the same-day as their flight departing from SFO will get their results back in 15 minutes.

Customers may schedule appointments online for GoHealth Urgent Care’s dedicated COVID-19 testing area at the San Francisco airport, which will be available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

The price for GoHealth’s rapid testing option is currently $250, but insiders say the price might come down before Oct. 15.

United said its partnership with Hawaii makes it the first U.S. airline to announce the launch of a COVID-19 pilot testing program for travelers.

“Our new COVID testing program is another way we are helping customers meet their destinations’ entry requirements, safely and conveniently,” Toby Enqvist, Chief Customer Officer at United, said in a statement. “We’ll look to quickly expand customer testing to other destinations and U.S. airports later this year to complement our state-of-the-art cleaning and safety measures that include a mandatory mask policy, antimicrobial and electrostatic spraying and our hospital-grade HEPA air filtration systems.”

United offers daily service between San Francisco and Honolulu, Maui and Kona. The carrier has said that it plans to increase service to Hawaii on October 15, including the resumption of service between San Francisco and Lihue and additional flights between San Francisco and Maui and Kona.

United said that it decided to expand its testing program after partnering with GoHealth Urgent Care in July to test its international flight crews that were coming into San Francisco.

“We are excited about expanding our partnership with United and continuing to support their proactive safety measures,” said Todd Latz, CEO of GoHealth Urgent Care. “Our on-site, real- time testing for passengers is yet another example of GoHealth’s nationwide efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19 and ensure a safer return to normal activities and business operations.”

The partnership announcements comes after Gov. David Ige’s new emergency proclamation issued Wednesday that extends through Oct . 31 a mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers to Hawaii that’s been in place since March 26.

However, starting Oct. 15, Ige’s latest order says that “travelers who, upon entry into the state, provide written confirmation from a state approved COVID-19 testing facility of a negative test result from a test administered to the traveler within 72 hours from the final leg of departure, will be exempt from the mandatory quarantine.”

The interisland quarantine for travelers arriving in the counties of Kauai, Hawaii, Maui and Kalawao (Kalaupapa) remains in place; however, Ige’s proclamation allows counties to adopt a negative test exception process allowing travelers to bypass the interisland quarantine.

United’s pilot program also follows urging from the American Hotel & Lodging Association this week for Congress to pass another round of COVID-19 recovery legislation. According to AHLA’s most recent member survey, 68 % of hotels report they have less than half of their typical, pre-crisis staff working full time, and without further governmental assistance, 74% have said they would need to lay off more.

Meanwhile, United was among the airline management and labor leaders who on Tuesday asked federal legislators to extend the airline Payroll Support Program to prevent thousands of involuntary furloughs from taking place on Oct. 1

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Clarification: This story has been updated to remove an earlier reference to a self-collected, mail-in test option.

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