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Thousands arrive in Hawaii on the first day of testing before traveling



HONOLULU – About 8,000 people landed in Hawaii on the first day of a pre-trip test program that allowed travelers to come to the islands without quarantine for two weeks if they could produce a negative coronavirus test.

Angela Margos was among the first passengers in San Francisco to board a flight to Hawaii Thursday morning.

“Vacation, peace of mind,” said Margos, a nurse from San Carlos, California, about why she̵

7;s flying to Hawaii. “I need time to relax, relax.”

The new test program is an attempt to stem the devastating slowdown that the pandemic has had on Hawaii’s tourist-based economy. Officials had proclaimed the mandatory quarantine rule as an integral part of Hawaii’s early success in keeping coronavirus at bay.

But gaps in the pre-trip test program combined with rising cases of COVID-19 across the United States have raised questions about whether Hawaii is ready to safely welcome back vacationers.

And as local restrictions were eased before the summer holidays, the spread of the disease in the community spread to alarming levels, forcing another round of home orders for residents and closures for non-essential businesses.

Margos encountered hiccups getting her test. She first did it at the hospital where she works, only to find out it was not an approved location for United Airlines and the state of Hawaii. She then paid $ 105 for a drive-thru test, but she was later informed that there was an error with this test.

United Airlines passengers wait in line to check in at the SFO COVID-19 express test site at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Thursday, October 15, 2020. Coronavirus-weary residents and struggling business owners in Hawaii will keep an eye out when tourists begins to return to the islands on Thursday without having to quarantine on arrival. (AP Photo / Jeff Chiu)

Theresa Zoller, left, gets a quick COVID-19 test from June Lopez, Dignity GoHealth Medical Assistant, before a United Airlines flight to Hawaii at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Thursday, October 15, 2020. Coronavirus-weary residents and struggling business owners in Hawaii will watch closely as tourists begin to return to the islands Thursday without having to self-quarantine upon arrival. (AP Photo / Jeff Chiu)

Dignity GoHealth workers, June Lopez, foreground and Brandon Hastings, use Abbott ID Now fast antigen testing machines for United Airlines passengers taking samples at the SFO COVID-19 high-speed test site at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Thursday, the 15th. October at 2020. Coronavirus-weary residents and struggling business owners in Hawaii will keep an eye out when tourists begin returning to the islands Thursday without having to self-quarantine upon arrival. (AP Photo / Jeff Chiu)

Margos eventually paid $ 250 for a quick results test Thursday at the San Francisco airport, which came back negative.

Opponents of the test program have said that a single test 72 hours before arrival – especially when combined with the possibility of flying without a test and still in quarantine – is not enough to protect the island’s residents.

Kathleen Miyashita and her husband were among those who came to Hawaii Thursday without being tested. They said they plan to quarantine their family’s farm on Oahu.

“We chose to do the 14-day quarantine,” Miyashita said. “We have no problem getting food in. It’s like a paradise in quarantine when it comes to having fresh fruits and vegetables at home.”

She said she and her husband were “not at all” worried about being asymptomatic carriers of the disease.

“We have traveled and we are just taking precautions,” she said, adding that they had already quarantined Hawaii about two months ago.

Hawaii’s economy is almost exclusively built around tourism, and local families who depend on the sector to survive need to return to work.

More than 100 of Hawaii’s approximately 4,000 restaurants, bakeries and catering companies have closed permanently, and more than 50% predict they will not survive the coming months, officials have said.

Monica Toguchi Ryan, whose family has owned and operated The Highway Inn restaurant on Oahu for over 70 years, said the lack of tourism has been crippling.

“The restaurant and service industry has suffered so much during this pandemic,” Toguchi Ryan said. Restaurants have not received any federal relief since the spring and are struggling to pay their expenses. Some restaurants have closed completely and are unable to pay for their rent, food supply and staff salaries. ”

Workers at ABM Industries demonstrate cleaning inside a United Airlines plane destined for Hawaii at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Thursday, October 15, 2020. Coronavirus-weary residents and struggling business owners in Hawaii will watch closely as tourists begin to turn back to the islands Thursday without having to self-quarantine on arrival. (AP Photo / Jeff Chiu)

Toguchi Ryan joined Democratic Gov. David Ige on Wednesday for talking about a new restaurant debit card giving some Hawaii unemployed residents $ 500 to spend on local restaurants over the next 60 days. The $ 75 million program is funded by federal CARES Act funds and aims to stimulate the local economy.

“When restaurants like us have more customers, we buy more from our suppliers and we reinvest the money several times in our local economy,” said Toguchi Ryan.

With Hawaii Lieutenant Governor Josh Green, left background as he watches, Hawaii Governor David Ige speaks at a news conference at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, Thursday, October 15, 2020, in Honolulu. A new pre-trip test program that allows visitors testing negative for COVID-19 to come to Hawaii and avoid a two-week mandatory quarantine went into effect Thursday. (AP Photo / Marco Garcia)

Hawaii, which has about 1.4 million inhabitants, reported ten more coronavirus deaths and more than 100 recently confirmed cases on Wednesday. On Oahu, home to the famous Waikiki Beach and the state’s most populous island, the positivity rate was almost 4%.

County mayors have criticized the state’s plan for a single test before flight and want a mandatory second test for all arriving passengers.

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said last week that his initial proposal for secondary testing was rejected by the governor.

Big Island Mayor Harry Kim said his county would completely opt out of the test program before the trip and continue to require all arriving visitors to be quarantined for two weeks. Both now have different plans.

A restaurant will remain closed inside Daniel K.Inouye International Airport on Thursday, October 15, 2020 in Honolulu. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a devastating downturn in Hawaii’s tourist-based economy. Many shops and restaurants inside the airport are still close due to the economic crisis. (AP Photo / Marco Garcia)

Visitors are standing in a corridor at Daniel K.Inouye International Airport as they enter the state on Thursday, October 15, 2020 in Honolulu. A new pre-trip test program allows visitors who test negative for COVID-19 to come to Hawaii and avoid a two-week mandatory quarantine coming into effect on Thursday. The pandemic has caused a devastating slowdown in Hawaii’s tourist-based economy. Coronavirus-weary residents and struggling business owners in Hawaii will watch closely as tourists begin to return to the islands. (AP Photo / Marco Garcia)

Government officials are assisting visitors to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport on Thursday, October 15, 2020 in Honolulu. A new pre-trip test program gives visitors who test negative for COVID-19 the opportunity to come to Hawaii and avoid a two-week mandatory quarantine taking effect Thursday. The pandemic has caused a devastating slowdown in Hawaii’s tourist-based economy. Coronavirus-weary residents and struggling business owners in Hawaii will watch closely as tourists begin to return to the islands. (AP Photo / Marco Garcia)

An almost empty Waikiki Beach is seen on Thursday, October 15, 2020 in Honolulu. A new pre-trip test program allows visitors who test negative for COVID-19 to come to Hawaii and avoid a two-week mandatory quarantine taking effect Thursday. The pandemic has caused a devastating downturn in Hawaii’s tourist-based economy, and many hope the testing will help the economy recover. (AP Photo / Marco Garcia)

The governor said this week that mayors could implement certain secondary testing measures on their respective islands, but the cost and logistics of running such programs will be left to the counties.

Maui and Kauai counties decided to volunteer secondary testing for visitors. Big Island will require secondary rapid screening on arrival for visitors to avoid quarantine. Oahu officials have said they want to get a new screening layer in place but do not yet have the test capacity.

The mixed bag of county and state rules could wreak havoc on vacationers who have not properly prepared for the various screening requirements, especially those traveling to the Big Island.

“This second test upon arrival in the island of Hawaii will provide an extra layer of protection for our community,” Kim said in a statement Monday. “Almost all medical experts and coronavirus experts agree on the need for more than one test.”

Those arriving on the Big Island – home to Hawaii’s active volcanoes and the site of a 2018 eruption that wiped out entire neighborhoods – will take a mandatory rapid antigen test when they land.

The results will be available in about 15 minutes, and travelers who test negative are not required to quarantine. People who test positive should immediately get a more accurate PCR test and then quarantine until their results are available, usually within 36 hours.

People who test positive in the state, whether they are on vacation or at home, need to be isolated and cannot fly until they no longer have the virus.


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