State hopes to scale up participation in surveillance testing of incoming travelers

Published: Oct. 30, 2020 at 6:08 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 30, 2020 at 6:13 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Since its launch just over two weeks ago, nearly 104,000 people have come into the state through its Safe Travels screening program.

About 90,000 received quarantine exemptions, mostly due to pre-travel negative tests and about 10,000 have agreed to go into quarantine.

But how many have had COVID-19 even though they took a pre-travel test?

For that, the state is relying on a surveillance program that randomly offers post-arrival tests to travelers.

“I really like testing people on days four, five or six after arriving because ... they just got here and it’s probably a reflection of whatever was happening before they left for their vacation,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green.

Each county is conducting the random samples in their own way — with the Big Island being the most aggressive.

More than 9,000 passengers who arrived there were tested. Out of those, five had positive results.

Maui had one positive test out of the nearly 200 sampled. Maui is conducting the testing closer to the passengers' departure.

Kauai only tested about 50 with no positive test. Kauai’s Mayor, Derek Kawakami said few tourists agree to participate in the follow-up tests.

Oahu, with the largest number of visitors, only had 100 participants. No passengers were found to be positive.

With six positive test results out of more than 9,500 sampled, Green said that works out to less than five COVID-19 infected people getting through every day.

But Green wants the program stepped up — and wants more participants (especially on Oahu).

So far, Hawaii’s count appears to be the result of community spread, not the reopening of tourism.

“Surges will come and go," Green said, "If we didn’t know if it was caused by travelers there’s going to be a lot of discrimination and conflict, we can’t have that.”

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