Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

With the launch of its pretravel testing program on Oct.15, Hawaii is once again saying "aloha" to visitors, and while the program, delayed multiple times, has not been without its hurdles, the Islands saw an immediate boost in tourism.

Since March 26, all arrivals to the Aloha State have been subject to a strict 14-day self-quarantine, during which visitors can only leave their accommodations for a medical emergency. Additionally, most business and activities were shuttered or severely limited during the summer months as the state warded off a spike in coronavirus infections in late July and August.

Now, under the pretravel testing program, travelers who receive a negative result on a coronavirus test taken within 72 hours prior to arrival in Hawaii can skip the quarantine.

Agents and tour operators say the state's plethora of rules, many of which vary from island to island, could keep visitors away.

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In the first five days of the program, 21,681 visitors flew to the Islands, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, nearly matching the 22,344 visitors that came to the Aloha State in the entire month of August. (By comparison, last year Hawaii averaged roughly 29,000 daily visitor arrivals.)

State and county officials were ironing out the details up until the last minute for the new system to keep coronavirus infections in check while rebooting the tourism industry, Hawaii's largest private employer and the foundation of the state's economy.

The rush to get the industry going again, even at a reduced capacity, led to inevitable stumbles. Arrivals on the first day of pretravel testing outpaced expectations, and long lines were reported upon landing as travelers had to be processed before being released from the airports. On the first day of the program, some 10,000 people landed in the Islands, more than two-thirds of them visitors, and 84% cleared quarantine, according to Lt. Gov. Josh Green.

"In spite of the fact that we had thousands more [visitors] than we expected, we thought the processing at the airport went well," Gov. David Ige said in a press conference. "We were prepared. We had physical distancing markers, and we had adequate space to work through to keep the passenger flow. And we worked through the issues that came up upon arrival. So overall, I thought it went well for the first day."

After much back-and-forth between community advocates, hospitality industry representatives, state and local officials, the pretravel testing program launched with several provisions to keep in mind before booking an island getaway.

Everyone entering the state must provide their information at the website Safe Travels Hawaii, travel.hawaii.gov/#/, which includes contact information, test results and a health questionnaire.

Hawaii requires a Food and Drug Administration-authorized nucleic acid amplification test from a state-approved provider to be eligible to forgo quarantine; results from antigen tests will not be accepted.

The approved partner list includes Kaiser Permanente, CVS, Walgreens, Carbon Health and Quest Diagnostics, and more are expected to be added. A full list of testing partners can be found at hawaiicovid19.com.

The state also has plans to launch a surveillance testing program in order to better monitor the effects of reopening to tourism. A random sample of 10% of incoming passengers will be asked to take a voluntary follow-up test.

Additionally, Oahu has registered nearly nine out of every 10 coronavirus cases in the state, and the less-populated islands have taken additional steps to prevent spikes in infections as tourists return. The Big Island of Hawaii has adopted the strictest approach, requiring all out-of-state arrivals to both pass the state's pretravel testing program and take a free rapid-response antigen test upon arrival at the airport.

Anyone who tests positive on the antigen test is required to immediately take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and must quarantine at a hotel until receiving a negative PCR test result. Maui and Kauai are not requiring visitors to take a second test after arrival but are providing incentives such as discount cards for local shops and restaurants to visitors who agree to take a free, voluntary test 72 hours after arrival.

For interisland travel, Maui and Kauai counties will allow travelers from within the state to bypass the quarantine if passengers pretest for coronavirus 72 hours prior to departure under the same rules as the state's transpacific travel program. The Big Island still requires interisland travelers to quarantine. Oahu does not require a quarantine for interisland travelers.

For the most up-to-date information on approved testing partners and quarantine regulations, visit hawaiicovid19.com. Additional information is available at www.hawaiitourismauthority.org/covid-19-updates.

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