Neighbor Islands not sold on plan to welcome visitors back; Big Island opts out

Updated: Oct. 6, 2020 at 5:24 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii Island Mayor Harry Kim said he plans to opt out of the state’s pre-travel testing program, and Maui and Kauai appear to be considering a pullout, too.

The defection of Neighbor Islands from the program ― seen as a major step in rebooting the tourism industry and the state’s economy ― could be disastrous for its prospects and even trigger a delay.

Industry officials have said that different rules for different islands would deter visitors from coming.

But the Neighbor Island leaders say they’re concerned about the safety of the pre-travel testing program, set to launch Oct. 15, which allows mainland travelers to forgo a mandatory quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19 no more than 72 hours before departure.

On Tuesday afternoon, Kauai County Mayor Derek Kawakami said in a statement that any decisions must be deliberate. “We can’t commit to plans we don’t fully understand,” he said. “Our goal from the beginning has been to supplement the governor and lieutenant governor’s statewide travel plan.”

He added, "The option to opt out is a recent development.”

For weeks, Neighbor Islands mayors have been vocal about their concerns with the pre-travel testing plans, saying they want incoming travelers to take two tests ― one before arriving and one several days after landing. Visitors would have to quarantine until they get a second negative test result.

The state, however, has said the second test isn’t necessary ― and pointed out that Hawaii doesn’t have the testing capacity to test travelers in-state.

On Tuesday, Gov. David Ige refused an interview with Hawaii News Now on the issue.

But in a statement sent by his office, he said he respects the concerns of the Neighbor Island mayors and will continue to work with them as the launch of the program nears.

“The Safe Travels Program aims to reduce the risk of COVID-19 and support safe travel while also restoring jobs in Hawaii,” he said. “The program needs to be clear, consistent and as simple as possible for our residents and visitors in order to ensure the program’s success.”

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who’s overseeing the rollout of the pre-travel testing program, has said that he believes the single test would miss about 1 in 1,000 travelers who are positive for COVID-19.

He’s also argued that risk of any increase in infections will be mitigated by ensuring strong mask wearing and social distancing protocols. And he pointed out that not reopening poses challenges of its own, especially to the tens of thousands of workers who have been laid amid the pandemic.

Kim and others, meanwhile, say that other visitor destinations have tried the one-test model and failed. They also note that the Neighbor Islands have limited health care systems.

Hawaii Island has seen a spike in cases over the course of the last month, including two outbreaks at separate care homes that have left dozens of elderly residents dead.

“One test is not an acceptable risk for the protection of people on Hawaii,” Kim said.

“I’m trying to come up with a system to see how I can ensure that I will not tap the state’s supply of tests and also address the issues of when they are tested. I wish it was an easy thing to resolve.”

Kim says he spoke with all the Neighbor Island mayors on Tuesday morning in an effort to come up with a way to acquire more tests and create a plan on how to use them.

“What we’re trying to do on the outside islands to see if there’s any way to see if we can get a commitment to get the test kits to meet that need,” he said. “The second element is the logistics when they will be tested. Those are things that need to be worked out also.”

HNN also reached out to Maui County Mayor Mike Victorino for comment.

A spokesman responded to our inquiry saying that “talks are ongoing between the County of Maui and Office of the Governor on this issue.”

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