Hawaii island Mayor Harry Kim said he is opting out of the state’s pre-travel testing program starting on Oct. 15, which means mainland visitors going to the Big Island still will be required to quarantine for 14 days.
Although the neighbor islands are desperately dependent upon tourism — even more so than Oahu — Kim was concerned enough about a surge in COVID-19 cases to postpone the restart of tourism. Hawaii island recorded its highest daily count on Saturday at 43 new infections. Hilo Medical Center reported the Big Island’s coronavirus death toll at 32.
“All of us want to open up our economy, (but) … I made a decision that the risk factor in regards to doing this at this time is not an acceptable risk as far as endangering Hawaii’s people,” Kim said, adding that he is trying to come up with a plan to address issues involving reopening tourism.
On Monday, Gov. David Ige gave each county the option to opt out of the program that would allow travelers who test negative to avoid the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine, after denying Kauai County’s proposal to establish a post-travel testing program to supplement the state’s program. The governor did not respond to a request for comment on why he rejected Kauai’s proposal for a second-test option. Kauai had secured 15,000 of its own rapid tests for a post- arrival pilot program.
A Kauai spokeswoman said that opting out of the pre-travel testing program is “not a viable option” for the county, which had intended to “add another layer to the state’s program.”
Brian Perry, spokesman for Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, declined to say whether the county would be participating in the state’s pre-travel testing program, but said it is “continuing to work on these issues with the governor.”
Meanwhile, interisland travel restrictions will remain until the end of October “posing a very difficult (situation) for many of the interisland travelers,” Kim said.
Maui County officials said they are “working diligently on establishing interisland travel protocols to protect our residents and limit the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”
Ten days out from the start of Hawaii’s pre-travel testing program for trans- Pacific tourists, there is still much uncertainty as to when interisland travel restrictions will be lifted. Currently most travelers going to a neighbor island from Oahu must quarantine for 14 days.
Speaking Monday on the Honolulu Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii program, Ige said that he was working with the mayors and would announce a decision on a new interisland travel policy by “midweek.”
But Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said: “If the state has a plan, we don’t have clear guidance on what that plan looks like for interisland travel. Oftentimes conversations happen without our input.”
Kawakami said he was “a little disappointed” by Ige’s decision to reject Kauai’s post-travel testing program, which would have provided an “extra barrier of protection” for the community.
”We’re a little baffled because we feel that we’ve done everything we’ve been asked to do. Up until this point, even when the state has said that obtaining tests are a big challenge, we heard them loud and clear and we got our own tests outside of the supply chain of the state of Hawaii,” he said. “Kauai has been very up until this point successful as far as mitigating the spread of the virus and we want to continue to do so. This has nothing to do with fear. It’s not the time to be divisive. There’s times where we may agree to disagree but we should still all work as a team.”
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he is working on a post-travel testing program for people who don’t do the pre-arrival testing. A request has been made by the Department of Transportation Airports Division to use the city’s roughly 30,000 surge tests from the federal government for an interisland pre-travel testing program, but “we haven’t taken it to the next step of how we roll it out.”
Hawaii recorded another coronavirus death on Oahu — a woman older than 80 with underlying medical conditions — and 52 new infections statewide, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 157 deaths and 12,854 cases.
There are 2,227 active infections statewide and a total of 10,470 patients now considered recovered, or nearly 82% of those infected.
The U.S. coronavirus death toll has surpassed 210,000.