Five weeks into its coronavirus pretravel testing program, Hawaii is tightening the rules.
As of Nov. 24 those who wish to avoid the mandatory self-quarantine upon arrival in the islands must have their negative test result uploaded to Hawaii's Safe Travels system or in hand at the time of their flight's departure. If the last leg of their flight takes off and the test result has not been delivered yet, the traveler must quarantine for two weeks or the length of their stay, whichever is shorter. Travelers must still take the test within 72 hours of departure.
Previously, those who arrived in the islands still awaiting their test results were allowed to self-quarantine until the result was delivered. If negative, the quarantine order was then lifted.
But the program as it was has been subject to criticism; the mayor of Kauai, for example, had petitioned the governor for an emergency ordinance for the island that would require negative test results be uploaded before visitors depart for Hawaii. Earlier this month the island reported its ninth case in which a traveler took a pretravel test, then received a positive result after arrival on Kauai.
Hawaii has had one of the most strictly enforced entry requirements in the U.S. Since late March all arrivals to the Aloha State have been subject to a 14-day self-quarantine. Beginning Oct. 15, those who take a test from a state-approved provider within 72 hours of their departure and are negative for coronavirus can forgo the quarantine.
The state is making the adjustments while the coronavirus infection rate is rising across the United States and Hawaii started to see an increase in the number of arrivals with test results pending. Since the program launched, 44 travelers who entered the state while still waiting for their test result were found to be positive for coronavirus, Hawaii Gov. David Ige said in a Nov. 19 press conference.
"It isn't a large number, but it is enough to change the policy -- we want to close the gap to ensure everyone's safety," Ige said.
Even as Hawaii is tightening up its testing rules, it's opening up the requirements to travelers from Canada, Hawaii's biggest international market behind Japan. The program was first available to U.S. residents and expanded to Japan on Nov. 6. Travelers from Canada will be able to start participating in the pre-travel testing program starting in mid-December, and labs working in partnership with Air Canada and WestJet have already been approved.
"Canada is the second largest international market to Hawaii, so their commitment to provide safe travel to our islands is an important next step," Ige said.
Since the pre-travel testing program kicked off on Oct. 15, roughly 270,000 travelers have been tested and about 243,000 were exempted from quarantine. Results from the state's surveillance testing, a follow-up post-arrival test for a random selection of travelers, indicate that for every 1,000 people coming into Hawaii, approximately 1.6 are infected with coronavirus, according to Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who added the Safe Travels testing program has been "a valuable extra layer of safety for the state of Hawaii."
According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center Hawaii currently has the lowest seven-day rolling average for test positivity rate in the country at 2%, compared to the U.S. countrywide rate of 10%.