Gov. David Ige announced Wednesday that the state’s pre-travel testing program is on track to start Oct. 15 and will include random COVID-19 testing of 10% of incoming passengers four days after arrival in a move to determine the program’s effectiveness.
The additional surveillance testing was announced amid growing concerns that one pre-travel test per traveler won’t be enough to keep the virus from spreading into the islands again.
Hawaii island Mayor Harry Kim has said he will opt out of the state’s pre-travel testing program because of concern that one test per passenger is not enough to keep his island safe. Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami has said he has not made a final decision on whether his island will participate.
Kim couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon, and a spokesperson for Kawakami said the mayor is looking forward to hearing more details about the surveillance testing.
Elsewhere, the Honolulu City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution urging the governor to adopt a two or more COVID-19 test system for passengers who intend to bypass Hawaii’s 14-day travel quarantine.
Council Vice Chair Tommy Waters said Ige’s testing protocol, as proposed, is too risky and could endanger the health and safety of the islands.
“There’s too much to lose and we definitely cannot afford a third shutdown, which would be devastating,” Waters said in a statement.
Ige has said that adding a second test could deplete Hawaii’s testing capacity and prevent residents from receiving the tests they need.
Meanwhile, a group of Hawaii island legislators on Wednesday asked Kim to reverse his decision to opt out of the pre-travel testing program.
According to Big Island Now, six members of the Hawaii House of Representatives and three members of the Senate sent a letter to Kim saying the tourism shutdown has had devastating impacts on the island. They said they support a two-tiered testing system when it becomes feasible.
State Health Director Elizabeth Char also said a second test should be added as soon as testing supplies and logistics make it feasible.
Under the pre-travel program, visitors who get an approved negative test for COVID-19 within 72 hours of travel to Hawaii will be able to bypass the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
During a news conference at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, Lt. Gov. Josh Green described the random post-travel testing as a pilot program to see if it works as an additional layer of security.
“We do not expect a large number of travelers to be positive with COVID. The prevalence rate is pretty low on the mainland now. But by doing this we can reassure ourselves,” Green said.
“I expect our risk to be very low,” he said, “because these individuals will have just tested negative. But in some ways you can’t be too safe.”
Ige said discussions about testing will continue between him and the state’s four mayors, although he added that he had not heard officially from any mayor about whether they are backing out of the program.
An estimated 5,000 daily arrivals are expected when the state’s pre-travel testing policy takes effect, up from about 2,000 visitors now.
Currently, most travelers arriving in the islands must quarantine for 14 days.
“We don’t expect a rush of travelers beginning (Oct. 15) as most airlines indicate they will not increase trans-Pacific flights until Nov. 1. Many hotels are just gradually reopening between now until the end of the year,” Ige said.
Green announced a list of travel and testing partners for the program: AFC Urgent Care, Carbon Health, CityHealth Urgent Care, Color, CVS Health, Hawaiian Airlines, Kaiser Permanente, Quest Diagnostics, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Vault Health and Walgreens. Alaska Airlines is expected to be added to the list shortly.
Green said officials plan to give the pre-travel testing program a test-run Sunday, Monday and Tuesday with a couple of Hawaiian Airlines flights and testing from Vault Health. Passengers on those flights will go through the testing protocol and avoid the quarantine if they test negative 72 hours in advance.
Ige said the 14-day interisland quarantine will continue for now, but that could change because he’s been in discussions with the mayors about alternatives.
Ige also announced that the federal government has committed to allocating 420,000 rapid antigen test kits to Hawaii through the end of the year. The Abbott BinaxNOW test will be made available to long-term care facilities and eventually to public schools.
“These tests will be a vital part of us getting back to the new normal. We are all hoping to get everyone back to work and our kids back to the classroom,” Ige said.
Hawaii recorded three additional coronavirus deaths and 110 new infections statewide, bringing the totals since the start of the pandemic to 163 deaths and 13,045 cases.
The fatalities were three men — two in their 70s and another in his 60s — all who were hospitalized with underlying medical conditions.
There are 2,309 active infections statewide and a total of 10,573 patients now considered recovered, or nearly 81.05% of those infected.