Experts: Reopening tourism without requiring visitors to get tested could trigger ‘disaster’

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Updated: Jun. 9, 2020 at 11:44 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A group of UH experts is warning the state that opening up to mainland tourism without required testing before travel will overwhelm Hawaii’s health care system.

Experts from UHERO, the East-West Center, and the medical school epidemiologist analyzed the numbers based on national infection rates and testing capabilities, and they determined almost two thirds of infected mainland passengers would slip through the cracks without pre-testing.

"Very quickly we will be overwhelmed with new cases," said epidemiologist DeWolfe Miller. "It will set off a second wave, probably greater than we have seen before. It's not a good idea."

As successful as Hawaii has been in preventing the spread of the virus and treating patients, the public healthcare system is limited.

State officials say only 30 to 50 new cases a day for a few weeks would quickly exceed the capacity of Hawaii hospitals.

Experts say that's a likely scenario if visitors from the U.S. mainland are allowed to come in and are only screened for fever or other symptoms.

“You are missing all the people who are already infected, but haven’t gone to the point in their infection of having a temperature or symptoms,” Miller said.

Miller and his team are pushing to require passengers to get a diagnostic test within a few days of travel.

"I cannot imagine opening up without it. The investment of cost in time and resources to put this in place is nothing compared to what it would cost us if we have a second wave. I think it would be a real disaster," said Miller.

State health director Bruce Anderson says that’s why Hawaii should consider reopening travel first to destinations with similar infection rates like Japan, New Zealand, or even Alaska.

"I would feel much more comfortable opening our airports to locations that have low rates of disease," said Anderson.

Hawaii Congressman Ed Case even introduced legislation that would allow individual states to create their own guidelines and restrictions on air travel during a public health emergency.

Miller's team says travelers should be allowed to avoid quarantine if they pre-test, then they would also be screened for symptoms at airports.

Governor Ige is expected to announce plans for allowing transpacific travel sometime this week.

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