State to rely on voluntary, post-arrival tests to gauge safety of traveler testing program

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Updated: Oct. 15, 2020 at 4:28 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - As Hawaii officially re-opens to tourists, it’s the question on everyone’s mind: How good is the testing program at blocking infected travelers from coming?

The answer to that question, the state says, will come from a surveillance testing program.

Over the next couple days, the state’s first pre-tested travelers will get a notification on their Safe Travels Hawaii app asking if they’d like to volunteer to take a second COVID-19 test.

The test is free and part of an independent study being conducted pro bono by a group of local epidemiologists at the request of the state.

The results will determine if the state’s one-test program actually works.

“We’re going to be testing thousands of people,” said DeWolfe Miller, the epidemiologist is heading up the study. “We will go through and select systematically a representative sample from every plane."

That translates to about 10% of all incoming travelers who took a COVID-19 test before arrival.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green says he’s eager to start getting those results.

“As soon as we start getting data. We’re going to share it with you,” Green said, adding that he’s confident the vast majority of pre-tested travelers won’t have the virus.

That conclusion is based on data collected by the Tahitian government after the country reopened it’s tourism industry in July.

Green said Tahiti tested 24,000 people who had tested negative for the virus before arrival. Of those, 30 people came back positive for the virus. That’s about 1 in every 800 people.

But to be confident in those numbers the state is putting 15,000 COVID-19 tests towards the surveillance program. It’s an investment of nearly $1.5 million.

When asked how long the study will last, Miller was reluctant to get too specific. “Until we get enough people to consider it a sufficient amount of evidence to make a decision," he said.

But both Miller and Green say the key to keeping the COVID-19 case count low is wearing masks, avoiding gatherings and cracking down on quarantine breakers.

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