Hawaii’s resumption of tourism on Thursday sent more than 10,000 passengers through state airports and strained the system, particularly on the island of Hawaii, where travelers must take two COVID-19 tests to get out of quarantine.
Travelers who provide written confirmation from a state-approved COVID-19 test partner of a negative result from a test administered within 72 hours of the last point of departure are now allowed to circumvent quarantine. However, a post-arrival test is required for visitors to the island of Hawaii who can take a free quick test at the airport.
Hawaii Mayor Harry Kim said Friday that the county administered a post-arrival test to about 1,020 passengers ̵
Kim said the post-arrival antigen test paid for by the county only identified one arrival passenger who had COVID-19. Fortunately, he said the passenger was not part of the group that was allowed to leave the airport after 1 p.m. 20 to provide more space for officials to deal with more incoming aircraft.
“There is without a doubt yesterday a very bad experience,” Kim said. Each island was captured by guards by the number of people entering – not only by the number (passengers), but by the airlines changing the number of planes and their timetables. Flights came from stomach to stomach. ”
Kim said the rush of arrivals meant some passengers waited three or four hours before the field commander asked the authority to let them leave the airport. He said passengers were told that if they tested positive for COVID-19, the county would contact them to take steps to take a PCR nasal swab specimen.
“We were lucky in the sense that they were all negative and we did not need to track for a PCR test,” Kim said. “But it was a real mess. I can not deny that in any fantasy feature. ”
In the past, Kim has been critical of the Hawaii Safe Travels application, which collects information about travelers needed to enforce coronavirus public security measures. He said, however, that the state has made improvements and that it worked across counties Thursday.
Kim said Thursday’s biggest problem was the large amount of travelers. That’s part of the reason Hawaii Island still does not allow inter-country travelers to circumvent a quarantine that extends through Nov. 30. There is no inter-country quarantine for travel to Oahu, and Kauai and Maui allow travelers to circumvent their inter-quarantine under the same rules as the state test program prior to arrival.
Mayor Michael Victorino announced Friday that residents of Maui County who travel for medical purposes the same day or overnight are also exempt from quarantine and do not need to take a pre-departure test for COVID-19.
Governor David Ige said Friday that he expected Kim to present an itinerary for him later in the day and that officials would work through the proposal over the weekend.
After meeting with Kim and other county mayors Friday, Ige said he plans to ask the airlines to try to shift incoming flights so they don’t all arrive at once.
“Despite the fact that we had thousands more (visitors) than we expected, we thought (the state’s) treatment at the airport went well,” said Ige. “We were prepared. We had physical distance markers and we had enough space to work through to keep the passenger flow. And we (worked) through the issues that came up on arrival. So all in all, I thought it went well the first day. ”
Every day before COVID-19, an average of 29,000 passengers arrived in Hawaii. Arrivals dropped significantly under quarantine, contributing to a nearly 70% year-to-date reduction in visitor arrivals through August.
The Enterprise Technology Services Office, which is in charge of the Safe Travel Hawaii data collection system, estimated late Friday that 10,120 trans-Pacific and international passengers passed through the system on Friday. Of these, 6,076 or 60% quarantined. A further 1,401 or 14% were quarantined because they were waiting for test results or had opted out of the test program before the trip.
The office could not immediately explain why its data did not account for the approval or quarantine status of approximately 2,643 passengers.
Angela Keen, co-founder of Hawaii Quarantine Kapu Breakers, said the volunteer action group set up to help officials catch quarantine breakers is concerned that the pre-arrival test program has not eased the strain.
“We have even more potential quarantine breakers to monitor than before. The first day of Hawaii’s reopening of tourism brought 1,401 or more people who are not quarantined and who need to be monitored and tracked, ”Keen said. “Before the program, we had an average of about 800 per day that had to come in that had to be quarantined.”
Keen said she hopes the state will respond to recommendations from state auditor Les Kondo in a sharp review of the quarantine program released Thursday. Keen said she supports the review’s recommendation to set up supervised lodging facilities to help officials control travelers who need to be quarantined.
Kondo’s team said they found “a total lack of coordinated planning and communication between the state and county authorities involved” in the state quarantine program.
“Compliance and enforcement is left to the counties, which are heavily dependent on the honor system or tips from community members and hotel staff,” the review said. “Safe Travels’ automatic compliance check-ins provide minimal assurance that visitors and returning residents are in their designated quarantine sites.”
Ige said Friday that all counties are now on a common Safe Travel Hawaii system and that travelers who could successfully load their information were able to get through their airport entrance processing in minutes. Ige said state Information Chief Doug Murdock worked through reports that some travelers had trouble uploading their tests.
Ige said improvements have already been made to the system that allow any traveler with a smartphone to show their quarantine status to police or other screeners.
“No other state does what we do when it comes to quarantine enforcement,” Ige said.
The Kondos team was also concerned that on January 1, the state Department of Transportation’s airport division will hand over the program to the state Department of Health, “which has had little or no involvement in planning or operations.”
“In addition, CARES Act funds, which funded most of the programme’s development, must be used by the end of 2020,” the notification said.
Meanwhile, the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii’s COVID-19 Flight Assistance program is scheduled to run out of funds by the end of October. The program, which started on April 6, helps visitors who do not have the resources to follow the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for passengers outside the state. It was originally funded by a grant from the Hawaii Tourism Authority. After the use of MTV funds, VASH used its fund for victim assistance, which is usually used to help tourists who are victims of crime or experience another accident.
Ige said, “We are very aware that all the counties and the state received funding from the CARES Act and we will see some reduction in resources, but I think all the counties and the state are aware that the enforcement of Quarantine is an important part of controlling the virus. ”