Hawaii Will Reopen Without Quarantine To Those Who Test Negative But Some Think It's Unsafe

Sep 17, 2020

Mainland travelers may be able to avoid quarantine if they get a negative COVID-19 test before arriving in Hawaii starting October 15th. But some say the one-test plan is unsafe for Hawaii.

The test must be an FDA-approved nucleic acid amplificaiton test with nasal swab, such as those used during the recent surge testing, and they must be conducted within three days of departure to the islands. 

Those awaiting results when they arrive will still need to quarantine until they get a negative finding. Those who don't have evidence of a negative test will need to quarantine for 14 days or until they can show proof of a negative test.

All travelers will still need to get their temperatures checked on arrival and fill out a travel and health form

Graphic explains requirements for visitors seeking to avoid quarantine by taking a pre-flight test for COVID-19.
Credit State of Hawaii

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who tested positive for COVID and is working remotely on the testing program while in quarantine, described how the pre-flight test program would work.

"All arriving passengers, all of them, including children of all ages will be subject to the pre-test requirement," Green said. "Travelers will be responsible for the cost of their tests on the Mainland. And no commercial testing is going to be provided at our airports as of now. So we're trying to be very deliberate with this approach to get ourselves open but safely and securely for our state."

Green said the travelers from the Mainland can get their tests through Kaiser Permanente, Walgreens and CVS, and will probably cost between $75 and $140.

While tests won’t be offered upon arrival in Hawaii, even to returning residents, Green says this may change as the state scales up its testing to a goal of 13,000 tests a day.

The pre-test program has been delayed twice, on Aug. 1 and Sept. 1, after COVID-19 cases continued to surge. As case numbers and the positivity rate have generally declined in recent days, the state and city are moving to reopen the economy with the lessons of the July-August surge in mind.

Gov. David Ige says there’s no decision yet on when the 14-day interisland travel quarantine, which runs to Sept. 30, will be lifted. Anyone traveling to another island other than Oahu needs to abide by the quarantine, with counties granting exemptions in some cases for such reasons as medical necessity.

While the tourism industry that has been devastated by the COVID-19 shutdown welcomed news of the qualified reopening to visitors, the state's pre-flight testing plan has its skeptics.

Former Kauai Mayor JoAnn Yukimura presented a plan to a City Council committee yesterday called kipuka, Hawaiian for a plot of land surrounded by lava fields and a reference to how the state could be a safe haven even surrounded by COVID.

The kipuka plan would require at least two tests for visitors. They would take one test before their flight or immediately on arrival, then a second test six days later.

Yukimura said she and others who developed the kipuka plan met with Gov. David Ige in August.

"But we haven't yet gotten the one test plan revoked, which we feel is so critical because it's not safe and will lead us away from in the opposite direction from the kipuka. And, you know, toward ...  repeated shutdowns and increased deaths and COVID cases, which nobody wants."

The council's economic assistance committee also heard from Dr. Patrick Sullivan of Oceanit. The Hawaii company is developing a rapid saliva test for COVID.

He says requiring a test within 72 hours before coming to Hawaii -- as the state plans -- doesn't make sense.

Sullivan warns even if someone has a negative test, he or she could then catch COVID on the airplane.

He suggested that a solution might be cheap, rapid tests that people could conduct themselves -- several times -- during their stay.