HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - After being delayed for months, a much-touted pre-travel testing program that authorities say is a key step in rebooting the tourism industry will be launched Oct. 15, allowing trans-Pacific visitors to forgo a 14-day quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19.
Gov. David Ige made the announcement Wednesday, saying reopening the doors to trans-Pacific travelers is critical to getting tourism-dependent businesses reopened and people back to work.
Under the program, travelers will have to test negative for COVID-19 no more than 72 hours before arrival to qualify for the quarantine exemption. Trans-Pacific travelers of all ages will be subject to the rule.
And at least for now, there will be no tests available at airports.
But key details must still be worked out, including the specifics on how the state would confirm that a negative test is valid and taken within the required window. The state did say it is contracting with CVS and Kaiser Permanente to offer the tests at the traveler’s expense.
“The pre-travel testing program does provide an added layer of security,” Ige said.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who will be overseeing the rollout of the testing program, added that the tests will cost about $140. He said the program “definitely provides economic opportunity to our state."
The tourism industry has been all but shut down since late March, when Hawaii instituted its mandatory quarantine for trans-Pacific travelers and issued a stay-at-home order.
On Tuesday, representatives from the tourism industry said it was vital that the traveler testing program be launched by mid-October if there was any hope of sustained economic recovery this year.
“We’ve been ready for quite some time," sadi Mufi Hannemann, CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association. “In fact, we have 5,000 rooms in Waikiki that are ready to go tomorrow.”
The state had initially hoped to institute the program in Aug. 1, but delayed its launch several times — first because of a COVID-19 surge on the mainland and then because of an increase in cases on Oahu.
In addition to the testing program, the state has given Kauai the green light to proceed with “resort bubbles,” which would allow visitors to use resort facilities while fulfilling the quarantine requirement.
Oddly, while the pre-travel testing program is moving forward, the governor said he has no firm date yet for when the quarantine for inter-island travel will be lifted.
He said he’s discussing the matter with county mayors.
The planned reboot of the tourism industry comes as Hawaii continues to see a gradual decline in new COVID-19 infections — amid the third week of a stay-at-home order on Oahu that’s closed many businesses and banned many gatherings.
The mayor has indicated that he will ease restrictions starting next Thursday, with the issuance of a new order that’s expected to allow retailers to reopen and small groups to gather on beaches or parks.
But a timeline for a more significant reopening hasn’t yet been released.
The surge in COVID-19 infections in August followed by the stay-at-home order were another blow to the state’s economy, which has already seen tens of thousands of layoffs and scores of business closures.
This story will be updated.