This isn’t rocket science, but the start of the pre-travel testing program for coronavirus, set for Oct. 15, is taking on the aura of a shuttle launch. That date is uncomfortably close, and those most closely involved feel anything but comfortably prepared.
These include the mayors of at least two of the state’s four counties, contacted by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser to get their assessment of the online registration tool, Safe Travels (travel.hawaii.gov).
Big Island Mayor Harry Kim and Maui Mayor Mike Victorino offered somewhat sour reviews, with concerns that the internet system does not deliver some information that county officials want for tracking current arrivals. The problem could be a deficiency in Safe Travels, or in training for its use.
Either way, Gov. David Ige and his team need to work them out as much as possible with the counties, and with travel industry leaders, in short order. Ige meets together with the mayors three times weekly, and with that ample opportunity, hammering out the problems should become a priority.
Of course, this should have been a priority long before now: It’s not as if the state lacked advance notice that tourists would be returning. Fortunately, those working on the issue said on Monday, fixes to make the system more user-friendly, and to clearly flag who has tested negative for the coronavirus, are in the works at last.
Safe Travels has been called an app, but it’s better described as a web platform through which travelers enter their personal identification and contact data, as well as information about their COVID testing status.
The disease is still raging as a pandemic, a public health calamity that has decimated Hawaii’s bedrock economic engine of tourism. Managing the risk of additional infections from travelers, visitors as well as returning residents, is key to re-enabling economic activity.
Problems with the operation will take time to resolve fully, of course, but by launch day, a lot of the kinks will need to be ironed out.
The platform itself is fairly straightforward. Creating an account is required and should not be difficult for most people. For the minority who have no smartphone or internet access on their trip, those in 14-day quarantine can check in by phone.
By and large, though, these back-door adaptations need to be the rare exception, in order to keep the whole system from becoming unwieldy. Besides, such accommodations should become less critical after Oct. 15: The whole point of pre-travel testing is to waive the quarantine, making check-ins unnecessary.
But people will continue to have questions, and need ways of getting answers. The state’s portal hawaiicovid19.com will become a clearinghouse for visitors, Lt. Gov. Josh Green said on Monday during the Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight Hawaii” webcast. Partnerships with participating pre-travel testing clinics and airlines are nearly finalized, he said.
All travelers above age 5 will need to get a test 72 hours before arriving at the airport, Green added. Hawaii’s in-state testing capacity may soon expand, but for now the islands can’t spare its testing supplies for inbound travelers.
And at the weekly Monday meeting of the state House Select Committee on COVID-19, Raymond Vara, president and CEO of Hawaii Pacific Health, said that there will be a “frequently asked questions” feature on Safe Travels. A statewide call center also will be established, Vara said.
“Oct. 15 will really represent the ‘turning on the hose,’ if you will, to see where the leaks are that weren’t visible by the naked eye,” he said. “There will still be work to be done.”
Let’s just make sure the bulk of that preparation is done now. A smooth relaunch of tourism is simply too important.