After spending a year cooped up inside with minimal social interactions, you’re probably itching to get out of the house (or even off the island) to see family and friends. I didn’t hesitate especially after getting fully vaccinated.
A few weeks ago, I traveled to Portland, Ore., to visit my friends whom I haven’t seen in years since they moved away from Oahu. It was refreshing to catch up with my friends just like old times and explore the food scene in Portland complete with a trip to Trader Joe’s and Voodoo Doughnut.
Last month, the CDC updated its guidance saying fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S. and did not need to take a COVID-19 test or self-quarantine as long as they take the proper precautions such as wearing masks, practice social distance and avoid crowds.
Despite CDC’s guidance, Hawaii is still behind the curve. As of Friday, trans-Pacific travelers must either get tested for COVID-19 or self-quarantine if they visit or return to Hawaii from the mainland. Yes, you still need to take a pre-travel test or quarantine even if you have a vaccination record card (and sticker) to prove your vaccination status.
Traveling is stressful. As if the long lines and concerns about catching a virus weren’t enough already — tack on a COVID-19 test to your trip.
Gov. David Ige on Friday announced that beginning June 15, COVID-19 restrictions on intercounty travel between the Hawaiian islands would end, and the quarantine exemption would be extended for returning Hawaii travelers who can verify being fully vaccinated in Hawaii.
“Those returning who have been vaccinated in the state with one or both shots will be able to travel (to the mainland) without having to get a pre-travel test and can arrive here in the islands and not be subject to quarantine,” Ige said Friday.
But until June 15, Hawaii residents returning to the state still must have a negative pre-travel test before returning home to avoid quarantine.
If you’re a tourist visiting the islands or a local traveling to the mainland this summer with plans to return home to Hawaii, then here’s what you need to know to help make your trip go as smoothly as possible.
SIGN UP FOR SAFE TRAVELS HAWAII
The state requires all travelers to register on the Safe Travels website. Go to travel.hawaii.gov to sign up for an account. The website is clunky on the mobile browser, so I’d recommend using a desktop computer to create an account and fill out your upcoming trip information. Expect to provide your travel dates, flight information, government-issued identification and details about your destination upon returning to Hawaii.
SIGN UP FOR A COVID-19 TEST
If you want to skip the mandatory 10-day self-quarantine, you must get tested for COVID-19 within 72 hours before your flight to Hawaii.
However, starting June 15, returning residents may skip the quarantine period or pre-travel testing as long as they can provide proof of Hawaii vaccination status. Trans-Pacific travelers will need to quarantine or get tested until Hawaii reaches the goal of 60% vaccinated statewide. More than 52% of the state’s population has been vaccinated as of Thursday, according to state health data.
If you do not qualify for an exemption, sign up to take the test at least two days before your flight. The test result should be ready before you board (reminder: you’ll need to upload the document to the Safe Travels website).
Important: The state only accepts tests from “trusted testing and travel partners,” which includes CVS Health, Kaiser Permanente, Walgreens and Costco/AZOVA. Note that the state doesn’t accept just any COVID-19 test. To be more specific, you must take a nucleic acid amplification test from a certified clinical lab. View the full list of approved partners at this link.
I decided to go with Carbon Health, which promised my test result by 2 p.m. the following day. The testing site was also conveniently located at the Portland International Airport, a short distance away from my appointment to pick up a rental car.
GO TAKE THE TEST
I arrived about 10 minutes early to my appointment at PDX, where Carbon Health set up tents just outside the terminal. A nurse at the entrance confirmed my appointment and waved me through to a white tent.
Another nurse inside the tent greeted me with a test tube and asked me to verify my personal information on the sticker. She stuck a nasal swab up my nose. It was a quick, slightly uncomfortable, but painless experience.
HMSA didn’t cover the cost of my COVID-19 test, so I paid $170 out of pocket. Lucky me.
UPLOAD YOUR TEST RESULT
I received a text message that my COVID-19 test result was ready the following day. I logged on to Carbon Health’s app and downloaded my negative test result document and saved it onto the Downloads folder on my iPhone.
I had a small panic attack when the file failed to upload multiple times to the Safe Travels website. I soon realized the website couldn’t recognize the document because the file name was missing .PDF at the end. After I updated the file name and uploaded the refreshed document, the website immediately accepted and recognized my negative test result.
Note: The negative test result must be uploaded to the site before your departure. Another option is to print out the document so you can show it to the gate agent upon arrival in Hawaii.
FILL OUT THE HEALTH QUESTIONNAIRE
Within 24 hours of your flight to Hawaii, complete the mandatory health questionnaire on the Safe Travels website.
After I answered a handful of questions, within a few minutes I received an email from the state with a QR code. “Each adult must have their own QR code,” according to the email.
Make sure your phone is fully charged before boarding your flight. You’ll need to show the QR code on your mobile phone to the gate agent.
Tip: Screenshot the QR code on your phone as a backup just in case you run into any internet problems accessing your email. Got access to a printer? Even better. Print out a copy of your QR code email and bring it with you to the airport.
SHOW YOUR QR CODE TO THE GATE AGENT
After the Alaska Airlines agent scanned my QR code at the gate, she placed a green Pre-Clear wristband around my right arm.
I boarded my nonstop flight home. About six hours later, I got off at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. I flashed the wristband on my arm to the Honolulu agent at the gate who waved me through.
Home, at last.
NO COVID TEST?
If you’re a returning resident who can verify being fully vaccinated in Hawaii, Ige said Friday you can just skip the quarantine and pre-travel testing beginning June 15.
Until then, the only other option is to self-quarantine at home, at a hotel or at the residence of your family or friends. Even if you decide to skip the COVID-19 test, you are required to quarantine for 10 days or the length of your stay, whichever is shorter.
Hawaii takes self-quarantine violators seriously (see this story and this one), so stay inside and avoid making trips outside such as to the beach, grocery store, or restaurant during the quarantine period.
H̶a̶p̶p̶y̶ Safe travels, this summer!
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect Gov. David Ige’s announcement Friday to ease travel restrictions beginning June 15.
Diane S. W. Lee is the multimedia and engagement editor at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.