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2nd test tentatively approved for travelers to the Big Island

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Hawaii island Mayor Harry Kim said Friday that out-of-state passengers arriving on the Big Island will be taking a second COVID-19 test to supplement the state’s pre-travel testing program.

Kim said Gov. David Ige tentatively approved his proposal late Friday after he secured a commitment for an unlimited supply of tests with up to $3.5 million in federal CARES Act coronavirus relief funding.

The development means all four counties will join the pre-travel testing program, which starts Thursday and allows trans-Pacific travelers with an approved negative test for COVID-19 within 72 hours of travel to bypass the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

All of the county mayors had urged Ige to implement a second test to better safeguard their islands from the virus. Kauai County Mayor Derek Kawakami even proposed a second-test pilot program using 15,000 tests acquired by the county.

But Ige rejected the proposals, saying adding a second test could deplete the state’s testing capacity and prevent residents from receiving the COVID-19 tests they need.

As for Kauai’s proposal, the supply of tests apparently wasn’t large enough.

Kim said he was able to get the green light from the governor because of a commitment for unlimited tests from Premier Medical Group, which also committed to administering the antigen tests and to manning airport testing stations.

Kim said earlier reports about Hawaii island “opting out” of the pre-travel testing program grew out of a misunderstanding and a poor choice of words on his part. He said he never meant to say the county wasn’t going to participate, just that it was vitally important to have a second test.

“One test is inadequate. It’s not acceptable,” he said. “Experts will tell you a single test is high risk.”

The fact that Hawaii island on Friday saw a record-high 45 positive cases indicates how important it is for having that additional security, the mayor said.

The state on Friday recorded two additional coronavirus deaths and 155 new infections, bringing the totals since the start of the pandemic to 166 deaths and 13,300 cases.

The fatalities were two Oahu residents — a man in his 50s and a woman in her 80s — both who were hospitalized with underlying medical conditions.

There are 2,483 active infections statewide and a total of 10,651 patients now considered recovered, or nearly 80.1% of those infected, health officials said.

Hilo Medical Center reported that the Big Island’s coronavirus-related death toll now stands at 37. The medical center said 27 deaths are connected to the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home, three from the Life Care Center in Hilo, six from the community at the Hilo Medical Center and one at the Kona Community Hospital.

The state’s official coronavirus death toll counts only 15 Big Island deaths, with Hawaii health officials saying the other reported cases are pending verification.

Kim said he sent his two-test proposal to Ige on Friday morning and was able to get Ige to look at it during a busy day for the governor, who realized time is of the essence because the program starts Thursday.

Kim said Ige told him the proposal still needs to be examined by the Attorney General’s Office but that there was no reason he shouldn’t approve it.

Starting Thursday, he said, Big Island-bound trans-Pacific passengers who participate in the pre-travel testing program will be required to take a second test at the airport.

The process will take anywhere from a half-hour to 45 minutes, he said. Those who test negative are free to go. A positive result requires another test — a PCR test, the results of which won’t be available until the next day, which will require staying in quarantine.

Kim said he expects the program to continue at least through the end of the year.

He also said he hopes to eventually work up to having a three-test system.

On Kauai, Kawakami said he is working with tourism industry partners to help promote a voluntary post-arrival testing program.

“We will announce more on that campaign in the coming days,” he said.

On Maui, Mayor Michael Victorino said he’s still waiting on approval from the governor on three requests:

>> Allowing Maui County residents to travel among Maui, Molokai and Lanai without having to quarantine or be subjected to the pre-travel testing program.

>> Allowing all travelers between the counties to participate in the pre-travel testing program.

>> Getting support from the state in urging trans-Pacific travelers to voluntarily take a second test after they arrive in Maui County.

“We are also pushing the state to roll out its contact tracing app and surveillance testing program before visitors arrive on Oct. 15,” Victorino said. “This is vital in ensuring we can limit any potential spread in the future.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misattributed the reason for the governor’s rejection of Kauai’s two-test proposal to Mayor Derek Kawakami. Also, in the following paragraph, it was Hawaii island Mayor Harry Kim who was talking about the reason the governor approved his plan.
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