Hawaii postpones pretravel testing program for second time

Kauai's Napali Coast.
Kauai's Napali Coast. Photo Credit: Tor Johnson/Hawaii Tourism Authority

Faced with a spike in coronavirus infections and questions regarding the availability of testing, Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced in a Aug. 18 press conference that the state's pretravel testing program and reopening to tourism would be delayed until at least Oct. 1.

The plan, first floated in July, would allow arrivals from outside the Islands to bypass the state's 14-day mandatory quarantine if they test negative for coronavirus within 72 hours of landing in Hawaii. Initially slated to kick off on Aug. 1, the program was pushed back to Sept. 1 prior to the most recent announcement of another postponement.

"We will continue to monitor the conditions here in Hawaii as well as key markets on the mainland to determine the appropriate start date for the pretravel testing program," Ige said.

Additionally, on Oahu, which is home to more than 80% of the state's cases, restrictions on activities and gatherings have been heightened. Honolulu mayor Kirk Caldwell announced, also on Aug. 18, that gatherings would be limited to no more than five people, down from the previous limit of 10. The restriction applies to group sizes at restaurants, museums and other attractions as well as any other social interactions. Face coverings are also now required at all shopping malls. Outdoor attractions, recreational commercial boating activities and waterparks can continue to operate while limiting groups to no more than five. Oahu's beaches, parks, hiking trails and bars remain closed under a previous order, although people are allowed to cross beaches to participate in water activities such as swimming or surfing. The new emergency order went into effect on Aug. 19 and lasts for 28 days.

"We've been struggling over the past four or five days on whether we use a scalpel or a hammer to attack the spiking of Covid-19 on the island of Oahu. But we've chosen the scalpel for now," Caldwell said at the press conference streamed online.

Ige said the tourism reopening, along with more details on the pretravel testing protocols, will be announced with sufficient advance notice for hotels and other businesses to prepare to welcome visitors again.

The Aloha State has recorded roughly 3,000 coronavirus cases since Aug. 1, more than the total for March through July combined. Despite the recent spike, Hawaii still has one of the lowest infection rates in the country and, with 40 deaths linked to Covid-19, the lowest death rate in the U.S.

The 14-day quarantine took effect March 26 and requires all Hawaii arrivals to isolate themselves in their hotel room, home or other accommodations. The only exception is for a medical emergency, and those found guilty of violating the order are subject to up to a year in jail and a maximum $5,000 fine. Since the quarantine was imposed, visitation to the Islands has fallen off precipitously, with total arrivals in June down 98% compared with the same month last year.


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