As tourism’s relaunch nears, details of traveler testing program still being hammered out

Updated: Oct. 6, 2020 at 4:54 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii’s lieutenant governor dismissed calls from county leaders seeking stricter protocols before the state implements its pre-travel testing program next week, saying many of their concerns ― including those surrounding inter-island travel ― were “fear-based.”

Lt. Gov. Josh Green has spearheaded the state’s efforts to implement the pre-travel testing program that intends to deliver a shot in the arm to Hawaii’s tourism industry, allowing visitors to avoid quarantine by producing a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of travel to Hawaii.

The program, which has been pushed back twice, is set to launch Oct. 15.

But in recent weeks, the mayors of Maui County and Kauai have urged the state to implement a second test, taken upon arrival in Hawaii, as part of the process. Travelers would, presumably, be required to quarantine while awaiting the results of the second test ― a dealbreaker, according to Green.

“Honestly, if you do mandate people stay in quarantine. No one will come to Hawaii,” Green said.

“It’s natural to be afraid to have any spread, but the spread will not be from a few thousand tourists that come here who we’ve tested, re-checked, gotten their temperature, the spread occurs when people don’t wear masks. The spread occurs when we are actually delivering services to them."

The governor apparently agrees and on Monday denied Kauai’s request to require a second test for travelers. Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said he was disappointed by the decision.

“Our proposed pilot was intended to augment the state’s pre-travel testing program,” Kawakami said. "Our county administration has been clear that a single pre-arrival testing program alone does not provide the needed level of protection for our Kauai community.

But in an interview with HNN’s Sunrise on Monday, Green said the second test wouldn’t make nearly as much of an impact on reducing the spread of COVID-19 as increasing mask-wearing rates statewide.

“If the mayors want to stop the spread of the virus, they should get our mask-wearing rate up. If we raise our mask rate, we will not have spread. That’s the safe way to do it," he said.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority is also gearing up for visitors to return and says the state risks jeopardizing its image if the relaunch is pushed back again.

“Moving the date back will foster greater credibility issues in the markets,” said HTA president and CEO John De Fries. “We’ve got to be able to make a commitment, design a plan where we as a statewide community commits ourselves to flattening the curve permanently.”

Speaking on Sunrise, Green also discussed an aspect of the state’s tourism plan that has continued to draw the ire of local residents: The absence of a way to reopen inter-island travel without quarantining.

“That’s between the mayors and the governor,” Green said, when asked how it was possible that trans-Pacific travel to the neighbor islands had been figured out before inter-island flights.

An announcement on the neighbor island travel protocol is expected later this week.

“I have been working with the mayors to identify you know what the health metrics would be so that we can drop the inter-island quarantine,” Gov. David Ige told the Star-Advertiser.

“I do know and I’ve talked with residents, especially on the neighbor islands, they continue to be concerned because of the number of virus cases they see on Oahu.”

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