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Kokua Line: Pre-travel COVID-19 test from Hawaii partner needed even by college kids frequently tested on campus

Question: What about the college kids who soon will be coming home for Christmas? Some of them have to, it’s not a choice — their dorms close for winter break. Why can’t they just use the COVID- 19 test they take at school to get on the plane? Colleges do a lot of testing on campus.

Answer: Several readers have made this suggestion, hoping that when family members return home to Hawaii, they won’t have to quarantine if they made a good-faith effort to be tested in time. College students, in particular, may be tested frequently if they are living on campus.

However, Hawaii’s Safe Travels program accepts only COVID-19 test results from its “trusted testing and travel partners,” which you can find listed at hawaiicovid19.com/travel. The test must be taken within 72 hours of departure to Hawaii, and the negative result must be in hand before boarding.

Hawaii’s website lists mostly commercial operations as trusted partners, such as Costco, CVS Health, Walgreens, Vault Health and many others; UW Medicine, a health system affiliated with the University of Washington, is one exception.

Gov. David Ige has said the Safe Travels program wants to add more trusted partners, but indicated that the groundwork is done mainly by airlines and other travel companies with whom passengers book their trips.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Hawaiian Airlines responded to Tuesday’s question about a passenger whose negative test result from Vault Health arrived shortly after arrival in Honolulu on Nov. 24 — too late for the passenger to avoid quarantine under the state’s revamped pre-travel testing program, which requires trans-Pacific passengers to have it in hand before boarding their Hawaii-bound flight.

We’d asked Hawaiian whether this was a widespread problem and whether there was anything the airline could do. Here is spokeswoman Tara Shimooka’s response:

“We launched our partnership with Vault Health on Oct. 1, and have since added more exclusive testing options through which we’ve tested more than 20,000 travelers across all testing partners. Hawaiian requires Vault and our other partners to guarantee test results within 24 to 36 hours — something not all of the state’s trusted partners offer. There have been isolated cases of results being delayed primarily by shipping, and affected guests should receive a refund from the testing provider. While we are well-positioned to help our guests test in time with our growing network of dedicated partners, the state’s new restriction added stress and uncertainty for travelers who want to do the right thing and participate in the Safe Travels program.”

We confirmed with Tuesday’s reader that the cost of the test had been refunded, in keeping with Hawaiian’s agreement with Vault.

In a follow-up phone call, Shimooka emphasized that Hawaiian’s partners prioritize testing for its passengers. There are multiple testing options, which are listed on Hawaiian’s website by departure city. For more information, see hawaiian airlines.com/covid-test-options.

Q: The state is not letting people out of quarantine if their negative result is recorded an hour after they land, and yet there could be somebody else on that same plane flying in without being tested at all!?

A: Yes, but to be clear, untested passengers are required to quarantine for 14 days. We get your point, though, and have heard from others who believe the state should go back to freeing people from quarantine once their pre-travel test comes back negative.

A state House committee is urging Gov. David Ige to update the rules. Under the committee’s proposal, passengers awaiting their pre-travel test results would receive a rapid test upon arrival in Hawaii and be allowed to exit quarantine if that test and their original, tardy test both come back negative. The committee says the Safe Travels program has been a success, helping restart Hawaii’s tourism economy while limiting COVID-19 risk. Travelers and travel-related businesses (airlines, hotels, etc.) need a consistent statewide policy, it says. Read the proposal at 808ne.ws/stp.


Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email kokua line@staradvertiser.com.


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