Post-arrival testing finds few COVID-19 cases among trans-Pacific travelers

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Updated: Nov. 12, 2020 at 11:28 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Random COVID-19 tests of trans-Pacific travelers taken several days after they’ve arrived in the islands indicate a low rate of positives, an independent study found.

University of Hawaii epidemiologist DeWolfe Miller said out of more than 15,000 people who arrived in Hawaii since tourism reopened on Oct. 15, just 19 were positive for COVID-19 after a second test.

“The people who’ve been tested and coming into our islands are kind of ― they really essentially, for all intents and purposes, don’t have any infection,” Miller said.

According to Miller, that would translate to a rate of about one case for every 1,000 arrivals.

While that means there could be seven or eight people with the virus arriving in Hawaii every day, that’s still a low rate that state officials expected.

People coming to Hawaii have been allowed to skip a mandatory 14-day quarantine if they test negative within three days of arriving in the islands.

“You would expect that they would find only a few people positive after you’ve already tested all these people for negative first. And so we’re seeing kind of what we expected, but it’s still early,” said Miller.

Part of the reason for the low rate may be that people are already being screened beforehand, and also have an incentive to remain COVID-free before coming to the state.

“If they get to the point where they bought their ticket and they get test and then all of a sudden find out that they can’t make the flight, there’s an incentive there to watch what you’re doing before you take the test,” said Miller. “You could lose a whole ticket.”

Even if incoming travelers are mostly COVID-free, Miller said they should still follow social distancing and other protocols against the virus while they’re here.

“I completely agree with everybody in our state government that wants to have a mandate for masking and a fine, and to try to get the people that are not masking to put them back on their heels, to do something that you can challenge them,” he said.

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