Hawaii island is launching a pilot program today that allows travelers, who have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and have fulfilled the waiting period, to bypass the county’s second-test requirement.
Hawaii island has had a second-testing requirement since last October when the state debuted its travel entry program.
Cyrus Johnasen, Hawaii island Mayor Mitch Roth’s spokesman, said the county intends to completely phase out its second-testing program on May 1 — a point in time when vaccination distribution in Hawaii will be more widespread and the state might already have implemented or be close to implementing a vaccine exemption for travelers.
Johnasen said Hawaii County plans to continue second tests for unvaccinated travelers through the end of April. He said passengers may bypass the post-arrival airport test by presenting legitimate COVID-19 vaccination cards showing that they have been fully vaccinated and have completed the required waiting period.
Paying for the post-arrival testing and running it efficiently has been a challenge for Hawaii island, which previously had changed policies related to its second-test.
Roth said from Dec. 15-March 31, the Hawaii county had relinquished financial responsibility related to post-arrival airport testing to private philanthropist partners, who created a contract with Premier Medical Group (PMG).
“When an agreement could no longer be reached between PMG and our partners, we took back fiscal responsibility on April 1,” he said in a statement. “In our resumption of fiscal responsibility for airport testing, we chose to seek lower testing rates, as public monies would incur the cost. PMG had notified us of a steep increase in rates, which led us to part ways.”
Johnasen said the county spent $400,000 in disaster funds to cover testing under a PMG contract from April 1 to April 15. He said that the county changed testing providers after PMG informed them that it would cost another $600,000 to cover testing from April 15 -April 30.
“We found a different supplier who would keep it in the $400,000 ball park for two weeks,” he said.
Roth said his administration “intends to ween off of the post-arrival testing program.”
“Our island has remained one of the safest places to live in our nation, and we are proud of the work that has gone into keeping it that way,” he said. “With the introductions of vaccines as an added layer of protection, we feel it is time to begin the return to normalcy, including reducing added pressures on our airlines, airports, kamaaina, and visitors.
Roth said the county would continue monitoring its numbers and adjusting as necessary “to ensure our community’s health and safety.”
“Until then, we will continue to seek innovative solutions to get our community back on track and return to a happy, healthy, and thriving Hawaii County,” he said.
Hawaii island’s post-arrival testing change comes as Maui Mayor Michael Victorino makes plans to implement a second test for trans-Pacific travelers, including residents who are returning from out of state. Details are still being finalized, but Victorino said during a press conference Wednesday that it could happen as soon as the end of April.