Thermal sensors at airports, mass testing seen as key to safely reopening tourism

Baggage claims were at a standstill Thursday due to a significant reduction of incoming flights.
Baggage claims were at a standstill Thursday due to a significant reduction of incoming flights.(Hawaii News Now)
Updated: May. 13, 2020 at 5:36 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Thermal sensors, which have been used in a handful of airports around the world to detect travelers with fevers, are emerging as one of several new tools the state could use to reopen tourism.

The conversation about how to safely reboot tourism — Hawaii’s no. 1 economic driver — is gaining new urgency as the economic fallout of the pandemic widens and as other sectors of the economy reopen.

Officials stress, however, restarting tourism comes with risks — and requires plenty of planning.

State legislators want to give $20 million to the state Department of Transportation to install thermal sensors at Hawaii airport checkpoints to combat a potential new surge in coronavirus infections.

“It will actually track a person, you don’t have to be there. It will tell you if a person has a temperature. You can track them down and hunt them down,” said Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, the state’s COVID-19 incident commander.

Right now, Hawaii National Guard members take temperatures of passengers manually. Using automated devices will greatly reduce the manpower needed to screen visitors.

Along with thermal screens, Lt. Gov. Josh Green is urging the state to install mass testing devices at the airports.

On Wednesday, the federal government awarded the state $50 million for testing and to trace people who have been in close contact with virus carriers.

With Hawaii’s low infection rate among residents, Green believes that money should go toward testing tourists.

“It’s a total game changer. What I envision is if people have to get tested at the airport or a hotel. We have the process to do it," he said.

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