Kauai seeks to welcome out-of-state visitors again through Safe Travels program

Updated: Mar. 2, 2021 at 5:04 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kauai could be lifting some of its travel restrictions a month earlier than expected.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Derek Kawakami announced he wants to opt back in to the state’s Safe Travels Program, making it much easier for tourists to visit the Garden Isle.

Changes would go into effect April 5 ― if the governor signs off on the plan.

So far, more than 24,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine have been administered on Kauai. The island’s total population is just over 70,000.

Kawakami says if all goes according to plan he believes enough residents should have the shot by early next month to be able to safely loosen travel restrictions.

“If we’re not slowed down or disrupted, we’re going to be hitting those visitor industry workers,” he said. “And we’re going to be hitting other age groups that are still going to be walking that line as far as being critical to get vaccinated.”

With just 11 ICU beds on the entire island, Kawakami says an outbreak could cripple its hospitals. That’s why he says the shot plays such a key role in Kauai’s reopening strategy.

“I know not everybody will get it,” he said. “But I truly believe if many of them are sitting where I’m sitting ― many of them would be making the same decisions because I know they care for people.”

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Kauai is the only island not currently participating in the state’s Safe Travels Program. It opted out in early December after an uptick in COVID cases.

Since the start of the year, the only way for travelers to avoid quarantine on the Garden Isle is to stay in a resort bubble at one of nine participating properties. There, visitors are required to take a COVID test three days after arrival. And can only leave the resort after getting a negative test result.

Out of the 4,234 travelers who have participated, county officials say five tested positive.

Islandwide, the county confirms that since Jan. 5 a total of 36 people total have tested positive for coronavirus. Thirty-one cases were travel-related.

The proposed rule change would allow out-of-state visitors to skip the mandatory 10-day quarantine if they test negative for the coronavirus within 72 hours of departing for the island.

When asked about it in a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Gov. David Ige said he had a conversation with Kawakami about it.

“My understanding is he did send me a draft of the rules that we would be reviewing,” Ige said.

Even if the rule change occurs, Kawakami says 10 resorts have committed to providing post-travel testing for guests. He says workers will also have access to testing as well.

“I know that these hardships these businesses have been going through is scary,” Kawakami said. “But I do want to tell them to hold on. We’re almost there.”

Under the current rules, travelers who have gotten the coronavirus vaccine are not exempt from the Safe Travels Program. A negative COVID test is still needed prior to travel in order to forgo the mandatory 10-day quarantine.

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