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Lawmakers, medical experts express concern about confusion in traveler testing program

Updated: Dec. 8, 2020 at 8:42 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lawmakers and medical community leaders want the governor to streamline the traveler testing program and do away with island-specific rules.

Currently, there are different rules for different islands and various groups have competing proposals.

“What we’re seeing now is just a ton of confusion with respect to the policy shift,” said Naalehu Anthony, director of the COVID Pau initiative, “That uncertainty is just going to lead people to not come here because they don’t understand what to do island by island.”

Kauai has opted out of the program entirely amid concerns about COVID-19 infections.

And the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization reports that decision has hit the island’s fragile tourism industry hard. UHERO reports there were an average of 600 visitors per day in November, but that has dropped to 24 visitors daily since the opt-out went into effect.

All incoming travelers to the island must now quarantine for 14 days.

Gov. David Ige approved the change after several travelers and returning residents tested positive for the virus after arriving on Kauai.

He also added a new requirement in recent days: Every passenger has to have their negative COVID-19 test result in hand before departing for Hawaii or be forced to quarantine the two weeks. Even if the negative result comes in hours later, the passenger cannot come out of quarantine.

Health leaders and lawmakers call that too restrictive.

“We think the right answer is to offer them a rapid test at the airport upon arrival,” said Raymond Vara, president and CEO of Hawaii Pacific Health. He added if that post-arrival test is negative, the passenger should still be required to quarantine until the pre-travel negative test result comes in.

Meanwhile, the state Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 wants the governor to approve a different measure.

The committee sent him a letter to impose the second test and a seven-day quarantine, half the time, based on new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’re asking the governor to reconsider it,” said Donovan Dela Cruz, chair of the committee.

Even the incoming mayors of Honolulu and the Big Island want changes made to the Safe Travels Program. They’ve submitted their own proposal.

Hawaii News Now reached out to the governor e to see if he plans on approving any of these proposals, but did not hear back.

“We want the governor to make a decision on one proposal that addresses the concerns that people have,” said Dr. Mark Mugiishi, president and CEO of HMSA.

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