The House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness is recommending allowing travelers who arrive with pending COVID-19 results the chance to shorten their quarantine by taking a rapid post arrivals test.
Committee members unveiled the proposed modification to the Safe Travels Hawaii, the state’s COVID-19 pre-arrivals testing and traveler screening program, during a meeting today with the four county mayors.
They said that they want Gov. David Ige and the four county mayors to consider allowing, “travelers who have diligently complied with the 72 hour pre-arrival testing requirement with a trusted partner, but do not have a result in hand prior to their departure from their final leg, be subject to and remain in a 14-day quarantine upon arrival unless and until they submit to a rapid test upon arrival at the airport, have a negative result, and then subsequently also have a negative result from their original trusted partner test that they can upload into the State of Hawaii’s Safe Travels portal.”
House Speaker Scott Saiki, who co-chairs the House COVID-19 committee, said “Our committee has always stated that we are in agreement with the governor and the mayors that our top priority is the health and safety of Hawaii residents.
“We also know that a healthy population will need a healthy and stable economy,” Saiki said. “We know that travel is a critical component of our state economy and that a combination of public health and safe travel can be achieved.”
The House committee’s recommendation is meant to replace the most recent Safe Travels Hawaii modification,which committee members said has had unintended economic consequences and has created enforcement challenges for at least some of the islands.
As of Nov. 24, trans-Pacific travelers to Hawaii who can’t present evidence of a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival in the islands have not been allowed to bypass the 14-day quarantine once their test results are received.
Committee members said the Nov. 24 change has had unintended economic consequences — they report that it has already resulted in staffing reductions and millions of dollars in lost revenue among the properties reporting 300 to 2,000 room night cancellations. It’s also had a corresponding negative impact on airlines, hotels, retail, restaurants and small businesses, they said.
Committee members said after the Nov. 24 modification some of Hawaii’s large trusted partners withdrew support due to their inability to guarantee results prior to departure. They added that the change also has created enforcement challenges for Oahu, which has said it can’t handle a significant increase in quarantining individuals.
The mayors, who also have each made their own Safe Travels Hawaii modification requests to Ige, told committee members that they would review the committee’s recommendations with their leadership teams.
The committee said Ige declined an invitation to participate in today’s meeting.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is in charge of Hawaii’s pre-arrivals testing program, said he is still reviewing the committee’s recommendation. However, Green also has his own Safe Travels modification pending.
Green has asked Ige and the governor’s leadership team to continue extending the pre-arrivals testing window to four days, up from three. He’s also asked to add a requirement that travelers, who want to bypass the 14-day quarantine, must also take an post-arrivals rapid antigen test at the airport.
“Adding an extra day to get your test results combined with an arrivals test is the best approach,” Green said. “That gives you four days between tests. Gives everybody opportunity to get tests without panicking that they will not have their tests. It strikes a good balance.”
Green said stretching the test result deadline by another day or two, presents a “very small incremental extra risk, but then if you couple it with arrival testing like the mayors want, it gives you a really good one-two punch to protect ourselves from a surge.”
“That’s the most sensible approach, I don’t know if the other decisions makers will go for that but that would do wonders for our programs,” he said.