Lieutenant governor expects big jump in visitor numbers after testing allows skipping quarantine

Updated: Jun. 26, 2020 at 5:27 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - State officials, including Lt. Gov. Josh Green, are confident that the state can accept more visitors while avoiding a spike in coronavirus cases.

This comes after Gov. David Ige announced that starting Aug. 1, visitors can avoid the mandatory 14-day quarantine if they get a negative test for COVID-19 within 72 hours before arriving in Hawaii.

Green said there’s nothing new about tourists needing paperwork to travel.

“Some people have visa requirements, some people have immunization requirements,” he said. “In this particular case, the COVID-era travel to Hawaii or Alaska, they’ll have a testing requirement.”

Green said travelers who want to come to Hawaii will have many testing options to choose from.

“So we’ve opened up discussions, in addition to CVS, (with) Walgreens. We’ve talked to Kaiser also. So that would give the full breadth of the country,” he said.

Green said he’s hoping the state can quickly verify test results on a national database that could be available with the national pharmacies.

Hawaii is modeling its program on what’s being done in Alaska. That state already has an online map showing testing sites across the country.

A clinic in southern Oregon has already been testing its residents who are heading to Alaska.

“I give them a copy of their test result from the lab, which is a formal printout that has their name, date of birth and other information, plus what test was done,”said Dr. Mona McArdle of Valley Immediate Care in Medford.

She also gives the potential traveler “a letter, on our letterhead, that says they were tested and cleared and they do not have any evidence of active infectious diseases."

Green said the state will make calls and do followup to verify those test result letters from private physicians or clinics.

He also said that getting the test within 72 hours of arriving in Hawaii minimizes the risk of coronavirus. But the physician in Oregon does tell her patients to minimize the risk further.

“Your test isn’t going to come back for three or four days,” Dr. McArdle said of what she tells her patients. “The next three of four days stay out of the grocery stores, stay home. Don’t increase your risk.”

Green thinks that the now-small number of visitors will rise quickly from the hundreds when the pre-arrival testing option takes effect.

“I will bet you that sometime in September we’ll exceed 15-thousand people a day. More than half” the number of visitor arrivals before the quarantine took effect.

Green said according to analysis from other states, only a small fraction of travelers are positive, even before testing.

“If we test them all, all of them, we’ll decrease that by 70 or 80 percent, so we’ll then have only six or seven people, maybe eight, that will still, for whatever reason, have COVID, didn’t get tested positive. That’s a small number,” said Green. “That’s a number that’s easily manageable.

Green said that things can change if problems arise, but believes that the extra efforts by visitors will ensure that the health of Hawaii residents remains protected.

“Just the process of a person thinking about it, going through the process of getting a test, then of course the negative test, getting their temperature taken, being thermally screened -- I mean my goodness, at that point we’ve lowered the risk significantly,” he said.

The state is still working on the finer details of the plan, but Green said those details should be worked out well before Aug. 1, when the state hopes to increase tourism again.

“We’re welcoming them back. But if they’re negative, if they’re negative for COVID. That’s the caveat.”

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