Kauai pushes for stricter safety requirements for arrivals

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Kauai's Napali Coast. The island is proposing stricter Covid-19 safety measures for arriving visitors.
Kauai's Napali Coast. The island is proposing stricter Covid-19 safety measures for arriving visitors.
Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

A month into its coronavirus pretravel testing program that relaunched tourism in Hawaii on Oct. 15, the state continues to tinker with the system and closely monitor infection rates as some local officials are pushing for increased measures to fill gaps in the current plan.

Kauai has managed the pandemic relatively well, with 82 cases and no fatalities, and since Oct. 15 has recorded 26 travel-related cases, including 14 cases from returning residents. But on Nov. 16, the island reported its ninth case since the launch of the pretravel testing program in which a traveler took a pretravel test, then received a positive result after arrival on Kauai. It also reported a dozen other cases in which a traveler had a negative pretravel test result but later tested positive for coronavirus once they arrived on the island.

As an added precaution, the island did take the step of launching a voluntary post-travel testing program, although it reported that from Oct. 15 to Oct. 26, only 20% of eligible returning residents and just 2% of visitors submitted to the additional testing. That has done little to quell the serious concerns the community has over the restart of tourism.

"A month into the state's Safe Travels program, it is clear that a single pretravel test is not sufficient to protect us from the spread of Covid-19," Kauai mayor Derek Kawakami said in a statement. "Our cases are increasing much faster than initial state projections."

Kawakami is now seeking Gov. David Ige's approval to issue a new emergency ordinance that would tighten Kauai's restrictions. First, the new order would make the post-arrival test mandatory. All travelers landing on the Garden Isle would be required to first take a coronavirus test within 72 hours of their flight departure, as stipulated in the statewide plan. If that result is negative, they then must quarantine for 72 hours after their arrival, at which time they can take a post-travel test and be released from quarantine upon a negative test result.

Additionally, the new emergency order would require that all travelers to Kauai have a negative result uploaded to the state's Safe Travels program prior to flying to the island. (Just days after Kawakami made his proposal to the governor, Ige adopted a similar measure statewide, replacing one that allowed visitors to travel to the Islands even if test results were not available at the time of their flight.)

"We know this announcement will result in a lot of frustration for travelers and those in our visitor industry, but the outbreak of Covid-19 across the nation is occurring at a faster rate than we've ever seen before," Kawakami said. "We have the unique opportunity to see the wave of disease coming, and in order to avoid a full shutdown, we must take decisive, aggressive action."

On Hawaii, where the county is funding the antigen tests administered to a random selection of passengers upon arrival, those who test positive on the antigen test must quarantine and take a follow-up PCR test.

Varying regulations among the islands would create an extra layer of bureaucracy and health protocols for travelers to navigate, and many in the tourism industry, including the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, the state's largest hospitality trade group, lobbied for a uniform system across the entire state prior to the Oct. 15 launch.

While Kauai's proposal, if approved, would go the furthest in creating a distinct policy from the other islands, even the existing rules regarding travel between the islands have already created confusion.

In addition to needing a test within 72 hours of departure to be eligible to bypass quarantine when arriving from out of state, visitors would need to take a second test if they plan to travel to the islands of Kauai, Hawaii or Maui (including Lanai and Molokai, which are part of Maui County). Therefore, someone who lands on Oahu, spends a couple of days exploring Waikiki and the North Shore and then wants to travel to Maui would have to get another coronavirus test within 72 hours of their flight's departure time to the Valley Isle. Intrastate travelers who are headed to Oahu would not need a second pretravel test.

Jack Richards, CEO and president of Pleasant Holidays, said the company has seen clients denied entry to islands other than Oahu while traveling on multi-island itineraries since the launch of the pretravel testing program.

"The requirement for another pretravel test has been difficult to communicate, since the first test may still be valid if they travel within the 72-hour window," said Richards, adding that roughly a quarter of Pleasant Holidays' Hawaii bookings involve visits to multiple islands. "We recently had customers traveling Oahu-Maui denied entry to Maui since they stayed three nights on Oahu and did not obtain a second test prior to flight departure. This information for inter-island travel is very difficult to find on the Hawaii travel websites, and the fact Oahu is exempt makes it even more confusing."

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