Updated 1:45 pm. We sit just 10 days from Hawaii’s planned reopening of tourism with quarantine no longer required for those testing negative according to state specifications. But what is actually about to happen is anything but clear. The state is contemplating a second test after a three-day quarantine. There is supposed to be a press conference with answers to how this is going to work no later than tomorrow. As of this morning, there was no indication of when that might take place. Furthermore, with this much dissension so close to the planned reopening, we aren’t sure whether the state will even be ready to make an announcement.
On checking the state’s COVID 19 website today, there have been few changes since last week. There is, now, however, a notable change, which is a phone number you can call with your questions. The website says, “I’m having technical problems; can someone help me? Yes, contact the Safe Travels Service Desk (10 a.m. to 10 p.m. HST): 1-855-599-0888.” If you do call, please let us know how that goes. We have no idea what it means by “technical problems.” When we tried calling at 10:01 am, the only option offered was to leave a voice mail so we couldn’t find out anything further. The lieutenant governor said travelers would be able to call with questions, but did not specify what kinds of questions would be answered.
CVS says travel testing starts October 10, but more information isn’t available.
If you visit the CVS MinuteClinic website, they will begin offering tests for travel later this week. But it ends there, no details about which locations will offer them, what they will cost (we believe $139), and how to make appointments.
Beat of Hawaii: for Hawaii’s most long-touted premier partner to have so little information this close to reopening date is a failure.
It has been nearly three weeks since CVS said, “We are proud to be able to support the state of Hawaii as they reopen for recreational travel in October… Once the program begins, people requiring a COVID-19 test to enable them to travel to Hawaii will need to register online to schedule an appointment at a COVID-19 test site at select CVS Pharmacy drive-thru locations. Tests will cost $139 per test and we currently expect the majority of test results to be available within two to three days. It will be live in time to allow travelers to schedule a test in advance of their planned travel to the islands and within the time frame required by the state.”
We are also awaiting the list of approved testing partners from the state.
The state (via the lieutenant governor) has indicated it will only accept test results from its approved partners. As of today, the website says: “The state of Hawaii will accept test results from trusted testing partners: CVS Health and Kaiser Permanente (as of 9/30/20).”
So which is it: One pre-travel test with no quarantine or two tests and 3-day quarantine?
Well, it all depends on who you ask.
Three county mayors, a number of legislators, and others are calling for additional mandatory testing and quarantine (albeit briefer) on arrival. In a joint letter to the Governor, legislators said they “Are concerned that the 72-hr pre-test and on-arrival temperature screening will not provide adequate vetting of infected travelers and will catch less than 60% of travelers to our islands.”
On the other hand, Lt. Governor and emergency room physician Josh Green, who is the official in charge of the state’s testing program for travel has said that a second on-arrival test is not possible. Hawaii simply does not have the testing capacity. He believes the single pre-test will work. He has since said he is open to the second test of 10% of arrivals to confirm that the pre-travel tests are working as planned. With a second sampling, “We would see–is it two out of 100 that were positive four days in? Is it one? Maybe it’s a lot, if it’s a lot of people we’ll adjust the policy, that’s a way to do it.”
Green believes the risk of a negative pre-travel test later turning positive is about one in 1,000. “All this energy on a second test is a misdirection and fearmongering. Of course, the more tests the better, but only if we have them.”
Green has confirmed Hawaii has about 4,000 total tests available daily for all uses. “If they test positive on the fourth day, what happens? They have to stay here and quarantine for two weeks, with all of their family who are close contacts in a hotel at their own expense. Do you think that they’re going to agree to that?”
Green’s White House analogy.
Green said, “Those guys are getting tested every day. It’s because they didn’t wear masks. So, the real debate should be about masks. The mayors should enforce their mask-wearing policies that will be excellent.”
“If people want to not open Hawaii, if that’s what some of the mayors are saying, they should just say it and we’ll have that discussion… Then we’ll find out what we have to do to support people on very long-term unemployment… If we continue to remain shut, I think you’re going to see massive numbers of people finally saying I can’t even fathom listening to the rules that are out there. Then you’re going to have a lot of spread.” The bottom line according to Green is “It’s a fallacy that tourists are the biggest risk. The risk is not wearing masks and not adhering to social distancing.”
Just how many visitors will come to Hawaii starting October 15 anyway?
Instead of the more typical 30,000 daily arrivals, we believe less than 5,000 a day will come here in October and November. That is well below even what the state has indicated it expects.
Speaking to that point, the new head of Hawaii Tourism Authority John De Fries said, “October 15 is bringing with it a lot of expectations, but the truth is we are about to enter a new learning curve that is vertical — and every day we’ll have to make refinements… There’s a sense of fear. Unlike crises of the past, where we hit a floor, and we get out and climbed back up. We haven’t hit the floor yet. We are still in a free fall.”
Hawaii visitors, as demonstrated in scores of your comments here, are unsure about many aspects of returning to Hawaii and air travel at this time. It remains unclear what restrictions and closures of all types could negatively impact travel in the short term. Moreover, any kind of quarantine after testing negative is likely a complete deal-breaker for visitors.