HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The number of travel-related coronavirus cases in the islands is going up, but statistics show that it’s returning residents—and not visitors—who have a higher infection rate.
So far this month, Hawaii reported 208 travel-related cases linked to either returning residents or visitors.
That’s higher than any other month. The previous high was in March, which had 222 travel-linked cases.
While more passengers overall are landing in the islands since the launch of the pre-travel testing program, it’s returning residents who have the higher infection rate.
And medical experts said that could be putting the community at greater risk.
“The returning resident comes back to the community, the home, the family, the people that they work,” said DeWolfe Miller, epidemiologist at the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine.
The neighbor islands (especially Kauai) are seeing the biggest differences between the percentage of visitors versus returning residents who test positive for the virus after arrival.
In Maui County, it’s almost even in recent months with a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases among visitors recently. On the Big Island, it’s a back and forth with locals upping visitors slightly this month.
Oahu is the only island where visitors are more likely to test positive after arrival. And that trend has held steady since September. It’s also the island with the most tourists.
Tourists make up about two-thirds of all the passengers.
Miller said the numbers show we cannot just blame tourists for COVID-19 spikes. Residents also need to be careful, especially after returning from the mainland. Miller also discouraged non-essential travel.
He said the risk just isn’t worth it right now.
The Safe Travels program, which requires a pre-flight negative COVID-19 test result, has helped filter out those with the virus, Miller said, but he suggested a second test to help catch those who might slip through.
And he added most COVID-19 cases in Hawaii aren’t linked to travel, but gatherings and community spread.