Fully vaccinated people in Hawaii will soon be able to show digital proof of their COVID-19 vaccination status on mobile phones before entering businesses and other venues that require it.
Gov. David Ige and Office of Enterprise Technology Director Doug Murdock on Wednesday announced the state-issued Hawaii SMART Health Card, which saves the CDC vaccination card digitally on the mobile phone and replaces the physical card. Opting into the program, which begins Sept. 10, is voluntary. Individuals who don’t want to participate may still show their physical card.
“This will help to prevent the use of fake vaccination cards,” said Ige, adding that businesses will be able to scan the QR code using a verification app.
The announcement comes just days before the start of the Safe Access O‘ahu program, which requires people to show physical proof of their vaccination status or negative COVID-19 test before entering restaurants and bars, indoor gyms and entertainment venues such as bowling alleys, arcades and zoos. The program is slated to go into effect on Sept. 13. Maui County is also launching a Safer Outside program that will require proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, bars and gyms beginning Sept. 15.
Ige said the new digital program through the Safe Travels Hawaii website makes it more convenient for those who have been vaccinated in Hawaii.
More local businesses and government agencies are requiring proof of vaccination status for workers, patrons and customers. ‘Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach and Highgate Hawaii on Wednesday became the first hotel company in Hawaii to announce a vaccination mandate for employees and guests.
“Participation in the SMART Health Card program is purely voluntary, but it aims to make it easier and more convenient for patrons to present proof of vaccination at restaurants, gyms, other businesses and establishments that require it,” Ige said in a statement. “The digital Health Card supports counties that require proof of vaccination at certain businesses and venues. It’s another step toward protecting the health and safety of our residents and visitors, while also balancing the need to support local businesses and Hawaii’s economy.”
As of Wednesday, 64.7% of the state’s population was fully vaccinated, and 72.9% had received at least one dose, according to state data.
About 177,000 Hawaii residents eligible to receive the shots, out of a total population of 1.42 million, still haven’t been vaccinated. Children under the age of 12, who comprise another 216,000 people, aren’t yet eligible.
The pace of vaccinations slowed to a crawl earlier this summer, but has picked up in recent weeks amid the latest surge in COVID-19 cases. The Food and Drug Administration also gave full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine last month, likely swaying more people to get vaccinated, while also paving the way for more vaccine mandates.
In order to obtain a Hawaii SMART Health Card, residents must have received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of Johnson & Johnson, followed by a 14-day waiting period. Vaccination information will be automatically verified against the state vaccination database.
The state’s database cannot verify certain vaccination records, including vaccination data from the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs and certain federal vaccine programs.
Unvaccinated residents or those who cannot sign up for the Hawaii SMART Health Card can provide physical documents, including a CDC vaccination card or, when permitted, a negative COVID-19 test result.
The Hawaii SMART Health Card is only available to people vaccinated in Hawaii and can be accessed at travel.hawaii.gov after signing up for an account. State officials say they are looking at expanding the system to allow residents to upload negative COVID-19 test results.
The health pass is similar to those rolled out in New York, California and Louisiana.
The push to require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test comes amid the highest surge in coronavirus cases in Hawaii since the start of the pandemic. Hawaii’s hospitals have been stretched thin as COVID-19 patients, the majority of whom are unvaccinated, fill intensive care units. There are signs that the sharp rise in cases has started to plateau, but health officials still worry that an increase in hospitalizations could result in health care officials having to begin rationing lifesaving care.
On Wednesday, the Department of Health reported 380 new coronavirus cases, significantly lower than the seven-day average of 702 new cases. But the lower number could reflect fewer people getting tested over Labor Day weekend. So far, hospitalizations have remained steady with 436 hospitalized as of Wednesday, according to Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who appeared on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii.
Green has said that if the number approaches 500, the state will have to start rationing critical care.
Green also suggested that the state should consider using the newly built 144-bed psychiatric facility at the Hawaii State Hospital if the number of hospitalized patients does outstrip resources. The $160 million forensic facility has sat vacant for months.
The new building was built to provide enhanced security and more space for patients, nearly all of whom have been ordered to the hospital by the courts after committing minor or serious crimes. The patients are currently being housed in other facilities on the hospital’s campus.
However, Gov. David Ige quickly shot down the idea.
“The Hawaii State Hospital is a forensic, mental health facility, and so it was never designated as a hospital and certainly I don’t believe it has the capacity to provide all of the services necessary for a patient who needs acute care,” said Ige.
Ige said the state was still negotiating with hospital workers on procedures within the new facility, which was slated to open in August.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health, which oversees the hospital, also said in a statement that the facility was not yet licensed for patient care. Neither Ige nor the Health Department provided a date on when patients would be transferred.
Green, in response, noted that it’s the Health Department that licenses the hospital and said it’s something he believes could be expedited.
“As we search for solutions to the overwhelming surge at our hospitals, whose ICUs are past full capacity, the new Hawaii State Hospital provides a unique opportunity to spare the hospitals the impossible decision to ration care, a decision we should never accept,” Green said by text. “The state hospital, which is still likely several months away from housing people struggling with mental illness and addiction, could almost immediately accommodate people who are discharged from our many stressed hospitals, it could accommodate people who need isolation or quarantine but can’t afford it, and it could help bring us back from the brink of the COVID surge.”