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Kokua Line: Why doesn’t the quarantine vaccine exemption apply to Hawaii residents flying home from out of state?

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Question: The state of Hawaii offers a quarantine exemption to trans- Pacific travelers who have recovered from COVID-19. Given this, how can the state justify withholding an exemption for fully vaccinated trans-Pacific travelers? According to the CDC, vaccination against COVID-19 is preferred to natural immunity.

Answer: “It’s not about withholding the exception, but about the state’s capabilities to verify vaccination status. A traveler seeking a positive COVID-19 and recovery exemption goes through a much more rigorous verification process than an intrastate vaccination exception traveler. A trans-Pacific traveler can’t be verified as straightforwardly as an intrastate traveler who was vaccinated in Hawaii,” said retired Maj. Jeff Hickman, a spokesman for Hawaii’s Department of Defense.

The “recovered from COVID-19” exemption allows passengers arriving in Hawaii to skip the state’s 10-day self-quarantine if they have properly documented their diagnosis and recovery within a certain time frame. The rules and web application portal can be found at

Since Nov. 26, 11,128 applications have been received through the web app, of which 8,820 were approved, Hickman said.

Your larger point — that fully vaccinated travelers should not have to pay for expensive pre-travel testing to avoid quarantine, either — is one that many other readers also are making. We’re especially hearing from Hawaii residents fully vaccinated in Hawaii who want to be able to fly home from a trip to the mainland and go about their lives without bearing the cost, inconvenience or stress of pre-return testing. For now the vaccine exception applies only when they are flying within the state.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Tuesday that 23,528 passengers had used the Safe Travels intercounty vaccine exception since it launched May 11.

Gov. David Ige said Tuesday that the state is working toward expanding the vaccine exception, first to trans-Pacific passengers fully vaccinated in Hawaii and then to such passengers vaccinated in other states. He did not give a precise timeline for the expansion, except to say that travelers vaccinated in Hawaii could expect to be included next month and travelers vaccinated in other U.S. states sometime this summer.

We also asked Hickman when the travel vaccine exception for fully vaccinated Hawaii residents returning from the mainland would be implemented, meaning for people who were vaccinated in Hawaii and whose records are available to the state Department of Health.

“Our policy changes generally have been one at a time. This way, if there is a surge in cases, we know which policy change to reverse,” he said. “Currently, the Safe Travels digital application is not built to distinguish between travelers vaccinated in Hawaii or in other states. The platform developers are working on this capability for the next update. It usually takes 14 to 20 days to implement changes and an additional five to seven days to test the change prior to going live.”

The intercounty vaccine exception launched May 11, so, doing the math, we’re hopeful but not certain that the update could occur by mid-June.

Last, you are correct, the CDC does say that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is a much safer route to immunity than catching the disease, since recovery from COVID-19 is not assured and even survivors can have lingering health problems. Scientists don’t know yet how long immunity lasts in either case. The CDC recommends that people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 get vaccinated, too. Read more at

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

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