HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - New COVID-19 testing methods and better access to tests could make it safer for tourism to ramp up, experts say.
Doctors still call the polymerise chain reaction, or PCR test, the gold standard. That will be the test the state requires under the pre-travel testing program set to launch Oct. 15.
But doctors and economists say an added test at the airport could ensure an infected passenger didn’t start shedding the virus during the gap between taking the test 72 hours before arrival and landing.
Dr. Alan Wu, of Doctors of Waikiki, said a rapid antigen test can offer results in less than 20 minutes.
Dr. Tony Trpkovski, also at Doctors of Waikiki, said the antigen test isn’t as effective as the PCR test.
But, he said, it is a good second layer of protection. “Not as invasive as the PCR test but more of a screening test," he said. "You rub the nose a little bit and it looks for the antigen of the virus.”
The medical center is also expecting to get a new saliva test with a few weeks. That one is as accurate as the PCR, less invasive, but does take about 24 hours for a result.
Economists agree that other COVID-19 tests used for travelers can help protect tourists and residents.
“There’s a yearning for people to get back to travel," said Sumner La Croix, an economist with the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.
"If people saw that there’s a pre-departure test and possibly that there was a test when people arrived here at the airport ... we could see a large number of people coming back.”
Hawaii saw more than 10 million tourists last year. La Croix hopes the industry can rebound by 50% — to 5 million tourists — in the next year with an increase in testing, contact tracing and eventually a vaccine.