Roughly 20,000 people are in travel-related quarantine on Oahu and authorities are unable to keep up with enforcement.
“Being forced into quarantine right now is not a good thing for Oahu because there’s about 20,000 people in quarantine on any given day that (the Honolulu Police Department) has to enforce against and it becomes harder and harder as more and more people are in quarantine,” Mayor Kirk Caldwell told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii on Wednesday, adding that HPD is having to do sporadic enforcement because it is “impossible” to call and knock on doors three times a day for every person in quarantine.
“Our goal is to test as many people coming in as possible to get them out of quarantine as quickly as possible.”
To that end, the mayor requested two weeks ago that the state allow travelers who took COVID-19 tests on the mainland but didn’t get the results upon entering Hawaii to get a second post-arrival test at the city’s mobile testing laboratory at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. If negative, with results typically within two to three hours, they would be free from quarantine.
But Caldwell said that he hasn’t heard back from Gov. David Ige on his proposal for a second testing option for travelers at the Honolulu airport, even though the city’s $16 million mobile lab has enough testing capacity for 10,000 tests per day, or 300,000 tests per month.
“A lot of capacity is not being used. It’s going to waste and we hope we can put it into action to open up to more visitors that are coming in healthy, staying healthy and leaving healthy when they go back to where they came from,” he said, adding that the governor had promised the county mayors to return decisions on their proposals within 24 hours.
A spokeswoman for Ige told the newspaper that the state has met with the city “to discuss the proposal and provide feedback,” and that the governor expects to make a decision shortly.
In his proposal, Caldwell also requested that people with work-related travel exemptions who go back and forth between Hawaii and the mainland also be tested to “safeguard against people coming in who may be positive, particularly with the surging in cases on the continent.” The state grants exemptions for certain travelers, including transit passengers, airline crew, critical infrastructure workers, military and federal government employees.
He also wants to open up testing to visitors and residents who simply did not get a pre-travel test on the mainland, perhaps because they didn’t have access to a lab or couldn’t be guaranteed results before departure. The state’s pre-travel testing program allows those who test negative for the coronavirus within 72 hours of departure to avoid the state’s quarantine, which is set to be reduced to 10 days from 14. That group of travelers would be offered tests at the airport for $125, and be required to quarantine for four days and then get a second negative test in order to get out of quarantine under the mayor’s proposed order.
Hawaii health officials reported four more coronavirus deaths on Oahu and 80 new infections statewide, bringing the totals since the start of the pandemic to 266 fatalities and 18,741 cases. The four latest deaths were all Oahu men, between the ages of 40 and 79 years old, with underlying health conditions.
Hawaii’s Safe Travels pre-test program has come under fire as infections rage throughout the mainland. Although travel-related COVID-19 infections are still rare in the islands, the percentage of those cases has more than quadrupled since the state welcomed back tourists in October. The Department of Health reported 13% of Hawaii’s COVID-19 cases were travel-related in November, up from 3% in October.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green told a Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 that he supports elements of the mayor’s proposal for post-arrival testing on Oahu, but doesn’t agree with offering it to those who don’t get an initial test on the mainland because that would encourage people to “blow off the test” before traveling and undermine the pre-travel testing program altogether.
The city has purchased 42,000 tests kits to be used into the new year at the mobile airport laboratory, which Caldwell hopes also can be used eventually in the state’s vaccination campaign.
For now, a second post-arrival test to get travelers out of quarantine will “help our visitor industry.”
“We need a strong visitor industry,” Caldwell said. “This second test option gives even more protection to those coming into our state during the holiday season. We’re going now into this potential increase in visitors who want to come during the holidays. Let’s have this program in place so that this can happen.”