With Hawaii leading the nation in fewest new COVID-19 cases, Gov. David Ige plans to reduce the number of days that arriving passengers with no test results will have to remain in mandatory quarantine, to 10 days from the current 14.
Ige is expected to sign his latest COVID-19-related emergency proclamation next week with the less restrictive quarantine rule. But when trans-Pacific passengers with no test results will face fewer days is uncertain.
Ige’s office said in an email to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser:
“The governor intends to decrease the mandatory quarantine period from 14 to 10 days, as recommended by the director of the Department of Health and the CDC (federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). It will take at least a week to make the technical modifications to the system so it can handle this change. The new quarantine period will be reflected in the next emergency proclamation. An effective date has not yet been determined.”
The change will apply to inbound passengers who take the required COVID-19 test within 72 hours of boarding a flight but do not have their results upon landing, forcing them to go into quarantine. Current rules do not allow them out of their 14-day quarantine even after testing negative, drawing complaints from both visitors and local businesses that rely on them.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green told members of the House committees on Labor and Tourism and Transportation on Tuesday that he would favor extending the current 72-hour pre-boarding testing window to 96 hours, which would give passengers another 24 hours to receive their test results before boarding a flight.
“You could actually get your test, and people could just defer their trips if they’re positive,” Green told the committees. “I don’t think the governor’s right now amendable to that, but that is a thought.”
County and state officials continue to discuss lifting restrictions on interisland travel, but there are no plans to do so anytime soon, Adjutant Gen. Kenneth Hara, incident commander for Hawaii’s COVID-19 response, told the committees.
“Safe Travels Hawaii has been a success,” Hara told the committees. “That’s the bottom line. … Hawaii is the best in the nation.”
Green reported data to committee members that show Hawaii leading the country with the lowest rate of cases per 100,000 people.
“The plan has been effective,” Green said.
While some states are seeing their infection rates jump as high as 300%, Green said Hawaii’s rate of 46.3 new cases per 100,000 population is the lowest in the country — and 50% less than the next-lowest state, Maine.
“That’s testament mostly to mask-wearing,” which is 88% statewide and 92% on Oahu, Green said. “Mask-wearing is the be all, end all.”
The state’s numbers are also a result of Hawaii’s Safe Travels Hawaii pre-arrival testing program, Green said.
“No other state can, or has, achieved that,” he said. “We do enforce the law, no doubt.”
Hara told the committees that “the Safe Travels Hawaii program has been working. … The reason Hawaii is successful is primarily because of the actions of the people of Hawaii, the residents, complying with the safe practices, complying with the guidelines: simple things like wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance.”
The biggest source of COVID-19 in the islands remains social gatherings of nonfamily members of five or more, Hara said.
“We just need to hunker down a little bit longer,” he said. “Vaccine is on the way.”
Green suggested that the expected arrival of COVID-19 vaccinations will ease many of the frustrations of residents and island businesses, such as interisland and trans-Pacific quarantines.
After an expected first round of vaccinations for senior citizens and health care workers, Green said that “by February, March, we’ll start seeing a lot of vaccinations from people, and I also know that as we get vaccinated here, our state, it won’t be necessary, in my opinion, to have people go through the interisland quarantine or the pre-testing process. They will be immune.”
But rules still will need to be enforced for people claiming to be vaccinated, Green said.
“People will have to show some evidence that they did it, of course, or else everybody would just check that box,” he said.