The reopening of Hawaii tourism on Thursday sent more than 10,000 passengers through airports across the state, forcing the system, especially on the island of Hawaii, where COVID-19 must take two tests to get out of quarantine.
Travelers providing written confirmation from a state-approved COVID-19 test partner of a negative result from a test administered within 72 hours of the last leg of departure are allowed to pass the quarantine. However, a test is required after arrival for visitors to the island of Hawaii, who can take a free quick airport test.
Hawaii Mayor Harry Kim said Friday that the province’s administration is a post-arrival test for approximately 1,020 passengers ̵1; all of whom arrived as part of the pre-arrival test program. However, Kim said the test was backed up at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport, and late in the day, passengers awaiting airport test results were allowed to leave before finding out if they did not have the virus.
Kim said the post-arrival antigen test, paid for by the province, only identified one incoming passenger with COVID-19. Fortunately, he said, that passenger was not part of the group allowed to leave the airport after 8 pm to have more room for officers to process more incoming flights.
“Undoubtedly yesterday was a very bad experience,” Kim said. “Each island is monitored by the number of people who enter – not only by the number (of passengers), but by the airlines moving the number of flights and their schedules. Flights are coming towards the stomach . “
Kim said the rush of arrivals meant some passengers waited three or four hours before field authorities asked the authorities to allow them to leave the airport. He said passengers were told that if they tested positive for COVID-19, the province would contact them to make adjustments to take a PCR nasal swab test.
“We are fortunate in the sense that they are all negative and we do not need to be monitored for a PCR test,” Kim said. “But this is a real mess. I can’t deny that in any imagination.”
In the past, Kim has been critical of the application of Hawaii Safe Travels, which collects traveler information needed to implement coronavirus-related public safety measures. However, he said the state had made improvements and that it had worked across counties Thursday.
Kim said Thursday’s main problem was the number of travelers. That is part of the reason why the island of Hawaii has not yet allowed interisland travelers to bypass a quarantine extending until November 30. There is no interisland quarantine for travel to Oahu, and Kauai and Maui allow travelers to bypass their interisland quarantines under the same rules as the trial program prior to the arrival of the state.
Mayor Michael Victorino announced on Friday that Maui County residents traveling for the same day or night medical purposes will also be excluded from quarantine and will not need to take a pre-departure test for COVID-19.
Governor David Ige said on Friday that he expects Kim to submit an interisland travel plan to him later that day and officials will work on the proposal over the weekend.
After meeting with Kim and other mayors of the province on Friday, Ige said he plans to ask airlines to try to stagger an incoming flight so that they do not all arrive at the same time.
“Despite the fact that we have thousands more (visitors) than we expected, we thought the (state) processing at the airport went smoothly,” Ige said. “We are ready. We have physical distancing markers, and we have enough space to work to maintain passenger flow. And we (worked) through the issues that came up. So overall, I thought it went well on the first day. “
On any given day before COVID-19, an average of 29,000 passengers arrived in Hawaii. Arrivals dropped significantly during the quarantine period, contributing to a nearly 70% annual reduction in visitor arrivals until August.
The Office of Enterprise Technology Services, which oversees Safe Travels Hawaii’s data collection system, estimated last Friday that 10,120 trans-Pacific and interisland passengers passed through the system on Friday. Of those, 6,076, or 60%, quarantine was cleared. Another 1,401, or 14%, went to quarantine because they were waiting for test results or joining a pre-travel evaluation program.
The office could not immediately explain why its account did not account for the clearance or quarantine status of approximately 2,643 passengers.
Angela Keen, co-founder of the Hawaii Quarantine Kapu Breakers, said the volunteer action group, formed to help officials catch quarantine breakers, is now concerned the pre-arrival trial program is not lighten the load.
“We have more potential quarantine breakers to monitor than ever before. The first day of the reopening of Hawaii tourism brought 1,401 or more people who were not excluded from quarantine and should be monitored and monitored, ”Keen said. “Before the program we would have an average of 800 or more per day coming up that should be quarantined.”
Keen said he hopes the state will act on the recommendations made by state auditor Les Kondo in a thorough review of the quarantine program released on Thursday. Keen said he supported the review recommendation to establish monitoring accommodation facilities to assist officers in checking travelers who should be quarantined.
Kondo’s team said they found “a general lack of coordinated planning and communication with the state and provincial agencies involved” in the state quarantine program.
“Compliance and enforcement are left to the provinces, which rely heavily on the honor system or tips from community members and hotel staff,” the review said. “Automated check-in compliance with Safe Travels provides little assurance that visitors and returning residents are at their designated quarantine locations.”
Ige said Friday that all counties are in a standard Safe Travels Hawaii system and travelers who successfully load their information will be able to get through the airport entry process in minutes. Ige said state information chief Doug Murdock, is working on reports that some travelers are having trouble uploading their tests.
Ige said improvements have been made to the system that will allow any traveler with a smartphone to show their quarantine status to law enforcement or other screeners.
“No other state does what we do when it comes to quarantine enforcement,” Ige said.
Kondo’s team is also concerned that January 1 of the state Department of Transportation Division will provide the program to the state Department of Health, “which has little to do with planning or operations.”
“In addition, the funds of the CARES Act, which funded part of the development of the program, should be expended before the end of 2020,” the review said.
Meanwhile, the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii’s COVID-19 Flight Assistance program is set to run out of funds by the end of October. The program, which began on April 6, helps visitors with no resources to follow the mandatory 14-day state quarantine for non-state passengers. It was first funded by a grant from the Hawaii Tourism Authority. After HTA funds were depleted, VASH tapped into the victim assistance fund, which is commonly used to help tourists who are victims of crime or experience other misfortunes.
Ige said, “We know very well that all counties and states have received CARES Act funds, and we will see a reduction in resources, but I think all counties and states have realized that implementation quarantine is an important part of virus management. “