HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii could see 5,000 to 8,000 visitors a day shortly after the mid-October launch of the state’s pre-travel testing program, Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Thursday.
Under the program, travelers will be able to forgo the state’s mandatory quarantine for trans-Pacific travelers if they arrive with a negative COVID-19 test taken 72 hours before flight departure.
In a news conference Thursday, Green acknowledged the program “will not be perfect.”
But he said it should dramatically decrease the risk involved with rebooting the tourism industry ― something Green said is critical for getting people back to work.
“This program adds an extra layer of security. Right now, nobody is getting a test before traveling," Green said. “We have to begin the economy again. People are suffering.”
The state has partnered with CVS, Walgreens, Kaiser Permanente and other testing sites to launch the program. Several airlines have also announced they’ll offer tests of their own.
Here’s how the pre-travel testing program works:
- After booking a flight, the traveler would go to safetravels.hawaii.gov to register.
- No more than 72 hours before departure of the traveler’s final leg, they would need to test negative for COVID-19. Not all tests are accepted until the program.
- Anyone 18 and over will need to register for the Safe Travels program. And everyone 5 and over will need to get a negative test. Younger children are exempt.
- Those who come to Hawaii and have not yet received their negative test will need to quarantine until they get the results. If they test positive, they will need to isolate for 14 days.
More details and an FAQ on the program is available at hawaiicovid19.com.
Green said in addition to testing negative, travelers will need to socially distance and wear a mask.
He characterized the program as an “additional burden" for trans-Pacific travelers. As tests improve and people are reassured that travel is safe, he expects the number of visitors to steadily rise.
He said by early 2021, bookings to Hawaii could be up to 50% of normal.
Before the pandemic, Hawaii was seeing upwards of 30,000 arrivals each day.
Green also said that while the program decreases the risk of COVID-19 spreading, it does make welcoming tourists back risk-free. Even with the testing, Green expects 1 in 1,000 travelers could be asymptomatic with COVID-19 but still test negative. With 8,000 visitors a day, that would translate into as many as eight positives coming in daily. That translates into roughly 240 added cases a month.
Green said to handle those additional cases, contact tracing and additional local testing capacity is key.
But not everyone thinks Hawaii has the infrastructure in place yet to handle more cases.
Honolulu Councilman Ron Menor has called on the governor to prove that the state is adequately prepared for visitors, with contact tracing in place to stop the spread of the virus.
Others remain concerned that the tests themselves won’t catch people who are in the early stages of infection.
“The most sensitive tests we have cannot pick up anything in the first three days,” said Dr. Lee Evslin. “By the fourth day, when the virus starts to explode in your body, the test could pick up maybe 33 percent (of those infected), so it’s missing 67 percent.”
Evslin is a physician on Kauai, which has had the fewest cases.
“Now people are wandering into our stores and our restaurants and I know the percentage who are going to be spreaders makes me nervous,” he said.
Some mayors have floated the idea of requiring a second test for travelers, making them to go into quarantine until they test negative three or four days after arrival.
Green said the statewide program does not include a second test requirement because Hawaii doesn’t have the capacity to offer that many tests daily.
And he said practically speaking, requiring a second test would likely mean very few visitors would come. “Almost no one would go to the markets where they ask for a second test,” he said.
Regardless, visitors will still have to follow the same mandates regarding gatherings, social distancing and masks.
“You still take precautions on the plane. Everybody needs to talk precautions when they get here,” said Dr. DeWolfe Miller, an epidemiology professor at the University of Hawaii. “Just because they’re tourists, that doesn’t mean they can run around and have parties and do all that stuff.”