Tourists who come to Hawaii often arrive jet-lagged.
Starting Thursday, they might get more than just their days and nights confused.
Gov. David Ige signed a 66-page emergency order Tuesday that gives travelers coming into Hawaii from another U.S. destination the option to take a COVID-19 test and bypass the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine.
The confusion comes because the testing rules vary across the islands.
“The rules keep on changing, and they are illogical from the standpoint of the visitor who doesn’t understand why Hawaii has different rules on each island,” said Keith Vieira, principal of KV & Associates, Hospitality Consulting. “There’s no question that the visitors are confused and that confusion will lead them not to book Hawaii.”
Hawaii’s passenger entry program requires so many steps that as late as Tuesday even some members of the visitor industry weren’t entirely clear what to tell travelers.
In general, travelers must provide written confirmation from a state-approved COVID-19 testing partner of a negative test result from within 72 hours of departure to Hawaii to avoid quarantine.
But there are many nuances.
Travelers who want to visit an island other than Oahu will have to wade through additional entry requirements.
Kauai plans to ask travelers to volunteer to take a second test 72 hours after they arrive, and Maui plans to ask travelers to take a second test anywhere from 48 to 72 hours after they arrive. Maui and Kauai plan to offer coupons or other freebies to travelers who volunteer to take a second test.
Travelers arriving on Hawaii island from out of state who have chosen to participate in the state’s pre-arrivals testing program also must take a county-administered COVID-19 antigen test upon arrival to Hawaii island.
Then there is a different set of rules for traveling between islands.
Starting Thursday, interisland travelers departing from Oahu can avoid quarantine with a pre-arrival test on Maui and Kauai but not the Big Island.
Also, travelers from the mainland who have been cleared through the pre-arrivals testing program and change planes without leaving the airport aren’t subject to an interisland quarantine.
Ige said during a media briefing Tuesday that the state’s testing requirements vary across counties because all islands have different COVID-19 situations and priorities.
“I appreciate all the work that went into developing this comprehensive safe-travel system, which we believe is the most advanced in our nation,” Ige said.
Hawaii island, which is undergoing a COVID-19 outbreak, has the strictest entry requirements for trans-Pacific travelers.
Mayor Harry Kim on Tuesday amended Emergency Rule No. 12 so that travelers arriving on Hawaii island from out of state who have chosen to participate in the state’s pre-arrivals testing program also must take a county-administered COVID-19 antigen test upon arrival. The tests, which will be paid for with county CARES Act funds, will be administered at Ellison Onizuka International Airport at Keahole, Waimea-Kohala Airport and Hilo International Airport.
Kim said those who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to take a subsequent PCR test immediately. Because they tested positive, these travelers will be required to self-quarantine while awaiting their new results, which are expected within 36 hours.
Maui Mayor Mike Victorino said Tuesday that he wants to see how travelers respond to the county’s request that they volunteer to take a second test.
“We’re going to see how that works. We’ve offering incentives, and we’re also saying, ‘Please arrive healthy, stay healthy, return home healthy and help keep Maui County healthy,’” he said. “I believe a lot of responsible visitors will do it, but you always have the knuckleheads and we know how they exist.”
The pre-arrival tests for trans-Pacific travelers will be uploaded to an online application, Hawaii Safe Travels, travel.hawaii.gov, which collects information needed to enforce public-safety measures related to the new coronavirus.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green said those tests must come from one of Hawaii’s 17 “trusted testing partners,” which are listed at hawaiicovid19.com.
Some in the community would have preferred that the state reopen tourism with a mandatory two-test process that requires visitors to take a pre-arrivals test and then quarantine for a few days before taking a second test.
But Ige’s order permitted counties to make only post-arrival test requirements. It didn’t allow the counties to impose mandatory quarantines while visitors await the results of a second test.
“It is about balancing risks,” Ige said. “We don’t believe that there would be a lot of people who would pay for a test prior to arriving here and then pay to sit in quarantine probably at a hotel.”
Even with the start of the pre-arrivals testing program, travel to Hawaii is not expected to return to 2019’s average of about 30,000 arrivals per day anytime soon. Ige said he expects Hawaii will restart trans-Pacific travel with 2,000 to 3,000 visitors a day and that numbers would improve over time.
The state eventually plans to offer the pre-arrivals testing program to travelers from international destinations. Ige said he is exploring a pre-travel testing partnership with Japan.