Shortage of COVID-19 tests nationally throws cold water on Hawaii’s tourism reopening plan

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Updated: Jul. 10, 2020 at 12:05 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A newly-obtained email written by the state’s health director includes a list of strict testing standards he says need to be in place in order to reopen tourism.

The memo from state Health Department Director Bruce Anderson is dated June 25, one day after Gov. David Ige announced plans to loosen quarantine restrictions for trans-Pacific travelers.

The message throws cold water on the idea of resurrecting tourism on Aug. 1.

The one-page email was sent to dozens of top state officials, members of Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, and stakeholders in the tourism industry.

In it, Anderson explained that a shortage of tests and surge of cases on the mainland ― as Hawaii is now seeing ― will make it impossible for many travelers to meet Hawaii’s new requirements.

He told officials that “we need to manage expectations” and said testing will likely remain an issue in many states “for some time to come.”

It’s a concern shared by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

“It’s a lot of unknowns to try and make a decision on,” he said, at a news conference Thursday.

“And yet we know the visitor industry needs a firm decision because they’re starting to plan and they’re starting to spend money to reopen.”

Anderson said the state needs to come up with a way to make sure all tests travelers are getting are legit ― and that the Department of Health wasn’t capable of certifying mainland labs.

He added he would “strongly oppose” Hawaii backing off pre-travel testing standards approved by the governor and mayors.

The program is still set to begin Aug. 1, and would allow incoming travelers to avoid the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine if they test negative for coronavirus no more than 72 hours before they land.

The governor and mayors met Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the plan and determine whether it should be pushed back or put on hold indefinitely.

“We’re really struggling to figure out what to do next to thaw our economy,” Caldwell said.

California, the state’s top visitor market, has seen cases skyrocket in recent weeks. Meanwhile, there are signs the virus is beginning to spread more widely on Oahu.

“There’s great risk given our testing capacity problems and the fact that we’re having difficulty perhaps doing effective contact tracing,” said Caldwell.

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