As of August 1st, travelers coming to Hawaii will be exempt from the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine if they first get tested for COVID-19 and are negative for the virus.
Updated June 26, 2020, 10:44am.
Gov. David Ige made the announcement standing in the check-in lobby of the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, declaring that Hawaii was ready to once again start safely accepting larger numbers of travelers.
“Beginning August 1st, travelers who have a valid, negative COVID-19 test prior to arriving, will not be subject to the mandatory 14-day quarantine,” Ige announced, flanked by cabinet officials and private sector leaders.
To qualify, the test will have to be administered within 72 hours of flying to Hawaii. Tests will not be available upon arrival in the islands and any traveler without a valid, negative test will still be subject to the quarantine.
Arrivals will go through temperature checks; anyone running a fever will be offered a COVID test. The final details are still being worked out with more specifics expected, but the concept is based on a plan that has been successfully implemented by the state of Alaska.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green, a medical doctor, noted that current measures like mask wearing and contact tracing will need to continue in conjunction with traveler tests.
“This is not a silver bullet,” Green cautioned. “But it is another part of the multi-layered system the Department of Health has come up with.”
Both Ige and Green say they are confident the local healthcare system has ample capacity to accommodate the increase in new cases expected as the economy reopens. Ige said the state had spent the past weeks building up capacity and was confident that the local healthcare system would not be overwhelmed.
That sentiment was confirmed by state Health Director Bruce Anderson, who has often been the target of criticism by those wanting a more rapid expansion of testing and contact tracing.
“Our state is currently only using about 25% of available capacity for COVID-19 because illness rates have been so low,” Anderson said. “This means we are prepared should we see a surge in cases or a large outbreak.”
He added that the Health Department now has a reserve force of 200 trained contact tracers ready to be activated, with 300 more in training at the University of Hawaii. Recent analysis by NPR estimated that Hawaii needed 33 contact tracers to safely respond to potential outbreaks
State Senate President Ron Kouchi of Kauai affirmed the state is ready and cited the response to a recent outbreak on his island.
“Within a matter of days, the contact tracing had been completed, almost 100 tests had been administered to close contacts,” Kouchi said. “I am thrilled to say as of today there have been no new positives.” He added that he hoped the example would inspire confidence that the government was ready for reopening tourism.
However, at least one potential problem still remains. There has long been a question of whether the state could legally roll out a pre-travel testing program. The emergency declaration establishing the quarantine is currently being challenged in court.
Attorney General Claire Connors maintains that the state is on solid legal footing.
“There is nothing violative of anybody’s rights,” Connors noted. “This is, and has been, a set of policies that has consistently been applied to all travelers. We don’t believe we have violated any constitutional or other statues.”
However, that remains an open question. The conservative Center for American Liberty filed a lawsuit against Ige alleging the governor overstepped his authority in declaring the quarantine.
The federal Department of Justice, via U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii Kenji Price, recently filed a brief supporting the legal challenge. Connors said she wished Price would have worked with her office to address potential concerns before joining the lawsuit, but the state was now prepared to meet the Justice Department in court.
On Wednesday night, the federal judge overseeing the case threw out Justice Department's Statement of Interest, saying the filing amounted to an improper attempt to influence a legal argument to which the federal government is not a party. The case, Carmichael v. Ige, will still proceed.
A separate challenge, For Our Rights et al v. Ige, will not proceed after the plaintiffs voluntarily withdrew their complaint.
In response to the developments, the state Attorney General's office said in a statement that the emergency Proclamations were properly and lawfully issued, and the Department of the Attorney General will continue to whole-heartedly defend them.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Senate President Ron Kouchi's name.