First day of traveler testing program sees thousands of arrivals and a few snags

On the first day of Hawaii's pre-travel testing program, there were about 30 passenger flights scheduled to come in carrying upwards of 8,000 people in all.
Updated: Oct. 16, 2020 at 11:08 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Thousands of visitors and returning residents flew into the state Thursday, on the first day of the much-anticipated traveler testing program.

Throughout the course of the day, 30 passenger flights were due to come in carrying upwards of 8,000 people in all. That’s a big jump but still far fewer than the 30,000 a day Hawaii saw pre-pandemic.

Of all those incoming travelers, about 800 didn’t get a test or have any other exemption, officials said. That means they’ll have to complete the full 14-day quarantine in the islands.

The first day of the new pre-testing program wasn’t without bumps, but most visitors seemed to overlook those and seemed happy to visit Hawaii without having to quarantine.

Part-time Maui resident Melinda Huey was among the first passengers Thursday morning to take advantage of the pre-travel testing program so she could forgo Hawaii’s mandatory quarantine.

She came in from San Diego and stressed the importance of taking precautions.

“Masks are important. Hand sanitizer’s important.”

San Diego resident Frank Soto was excited to be arriving in the islands. And he said the hassle of going through the steps to avoid quarantine was all worth it.

“It’ll be even way worth it when we get out of here and go to the beach,” he said.

Melvin Pua returned to the islands after attending a wedding in Las Vegas. He said the process was easy ― as long as you followed all the steps.

“Speaking to the other people, they kind of had no clue,” he said. “And I was the first one telling them they had to go onto the website and all this and that and they were a bit dumbfounded.”

Traveler Sean Rose, a Las Vegas resident in the islands to visit family, agreed.

“There was a lot of people on our flight who didn’t take the test or didn’t have their results back yet."

Lt. Gov. Josh Green also said that it appeared some passengers didn’t read up on the program before getting on a plane. He also asked for patience as the state works kinks out of the system.

“We do expect some people only read part of the instructions. Some people will think they need to get any test," Green said. “That’s not approved.

"We’re trying to be extremely safe because we don’t want to have an outbreak.”

Like so many others on the mainland, Jim had to travel a long distances to find a place to get a test.

Under the pre-travel testing program, trans-Pacific travelers who test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of flying to the islands can skip the state’s two-week quarantine.

The state has said trans-Pacific travelers can go to several trusted partners ― such as CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and Kaiser Permanente ― that have the required test.

But several travelers told Hawaii News Now on Wednesday they were having trouble finding a place to take a test. Others said they couldn’t even get an appointment.

[Looking for more information on the pre-travel testing program? Click here.]

“Every place that we’ve tried has been full," said Hawaii musician Shawn Pimental, who is in California.

“So we ended up driving two hours to Sacramento to get tested as Walgreens over here because that’s the only place where we could get an appointment."

Jozzy Norbisrath, of Minnesota, was trying to get tested so she can fly to Hawaii to care for her ailing father. She also said she was having trouble finding a test through the trusted partners list.

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“So the hospital that I go to is a CLIA certified lab, which is what they’re asking for, but it’s not one of Hawaii’s trusted testing partners, so I had to find another lab that I could go through,” she said.

Green, who is overseeing the launch of the program, said things will be “bumpy” at first.

“But anyone who’s coming into Hawaii on the first day of reopening, if we’re being honest, would expect to have a bit of bumpiness," he said.

Meanwhile, the state Transportation Department says it is ready to handle the different types of travelers ― those who have pre-tested and those who haven’t ― starting Thursday.

Tim Sakahara, DOT spokesman, said arriving passengers at the airport are going to be guided to one of four lines: Travelers who’ve tested negative, travelers awaiting their test results, travelers who have chosen not to test, and one line for flight crews and active military personnel.

“I can assure you that there’s going to be dozens of people at each of the terminals helping guide people, making sure they’re n the correct line, making sure they have the correct documentation and a QR code (on their Safe Travels app)," said Sakahara.

Here’s a look at the testing and quarantine process that went into effect at midnight:

  • On all islands, trans-Pacific travelers do not have to quarantine if they get a negative test no more than 72 hours before arrival. Only certain types of tests are accepted.
  • For those arriving on the Big Island, travelers are required to take an antigen test after arrival. The test will be free to travelers.
  • On Oahu, a mobile lab is in the works to test people after they arrive at the Honolulu’s airport.
  • And on Kauai or Maui, a post-arrival test is voluntary.

For inter-island travel, meanwhile, you must quarantine for 14 days if you go to the Big Island. For Kauai and Maui counties, travelers with a negative COVID-19 test won’t need to quarantine.

There is no test or quarantine required before travel to Oahu from any of the other islands.

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