Milestone Reached in Hawai‘i’s Tourism Reboot, Leaders Monitor for Adjustments
By Wendy Osher
The state’s Safe Travels Hawai‘i program officially launched on Thursday marking the start of pre-travel COVID-19 testing for trans-Pacific flights arriving in Hawaiʻi. Many hotels and tourism related businesses have been waiting for this day and have planned their reopening around the anticipated increase in visitor arrivals.
Under the Safe Travels Hawai‘i program, travelers now have the option of taking a Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) from a testing partner approved by the state within 72 hours from the final leg of departure to Hawaiʻi; and if given a negative result for COVID-19, are allowed to bypass the state’s 14-day mandatory quarantine.
Maui Airports District Manager Marvin Moniz said that considering it was the first day, the day went by “fairly well.” He reported one of the bigger issues was large volumes of passengers arriving at the same time. This included two American Airlines flights and one United flight, which arrived at the same time, “deplaning approximately 500 passengers that caused a back up in the holding room.”
“There were no major issues confirming passengers testing as well as those who did not test and needed to go into quarantine or return to the mainland,” said Moniz. He said three passengers were sent back to the mainland for not having a COVID-19 test and also not having a place to stay to quarantine.
According to Moniz, Kahului Airport processed approximately 1200 passengers that arrived into Maui from the US mainland on Thursday.
According to Lieutenant Governor Josh Green, the first flight that came in to the Daniel K Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, carried a total of 123 people, and passed through the screening process in about 30 minutes.
But the day did not go without complaints ranging from long lines to delays in processing passengers and concerns over poor distancing.
A Maui man who wanted to remain anonymous told Maui Now, “All the testing in the world, post and pre flight, is not effective when the line is so long and so many people crowd together… One infected person can endanger all these people. They need some kind of marker to delineate distance or hire more than three people to do screening paperwork.”
The resident noted that his mother-in-law had been planning a trip to visit from Seattle since April. “She jumped through all the pre-testing requirements… Their flight had to sit on the tarmac for 45 minutes because there was no place in line due to the failure of our state’s screening protocols after eight months of planning,” he said.
Still others had positive reviews including smooth testing through certain providers and the comfort in being able to reunite with family members.
State officials acknowledged that some “turbulence” is to be expected with the statewide rollout.
Governor David Ige reported that “things are going quite well,” but also reiterated that while the Safe Travels Hawai‘i program is still new and that challenges are to be expected, the state will be monitoring the program closely to make adjustments as necessary.
“A few people who did not know that a quarantine was still in effect, [but] understood when it was explained to them, that there was a test that they should have gotten if they wanted to avoid quarantine. But they accepted it,” said Lt. Gov. Green at a media briefing from the airport. “Others who had the right test, came right through without a moment’s delay. We know… that there could be bumps along the way, there will be a little turbulence as we’ve said… but we’re doing this safely.”
He pointed to positive stories that have come from the reopening saying, “It’s been touching… we’ve been able to reunite families.” Lt. Gov. Green said he spoke with grandparents who were getting to see their grandchild for the very first time, and another man who was reunited with his mother after a year of being away on a mission. “These are the stories that are occurring today because of the Governor’s trust in us, because of the hard work that so many people have put into this process, and really to the incredible work that we have seen.”
He continued saying, “We’re doing it not just because we believe in welcoming people, but because our people have gone through tough times. Eleven thousand people are having a tough time paying their rent… 150,000 people had a hard time without jobs and then 40,000 people needed health insurance through Quest because of the challenges. All of this work is for them. It’s for all of our families. It’s for those grandparents to see their grandchild. It’s for that young man to see his mom.”
Lt. Gov. Green joined Gov. Ige at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport to welcome passengers and check out the verification process on Thursday.
Speaking at the news briefing, Gov. Ige said, “This is the first day of a long awaited start of the state’s commitment to reviving our economy… Today is a big day for many people. It’s taken a lot of effort, working through a lot of issues, complex processes to get to the point that we can invite trans-Pacific travelers back to the islands in a safe way.”
Gov. Ige said, “As you can see, we’ve revamped the arrival process to ensure that we have adequate space and time so that we can review those arriving and make sure that they meet the requirements of our new pre-travel testing program.”
He said the pre-travel testing program is just one part of a multi-layered system that he said is making Hawaiʻi a safe place to travel. “From pre-arrival testing to post-arrival, we believe that our parters in accommodations and the hospitality industry are working very hard to assure that Hawaiʻi continues to be a safe place for visitors, for workers and the residents. It is an important step to reviving our economy and restarting our hospitality industry,” said Gov. Ige.
He took a moment to remind visitors of their responsibility in following guidelines. “We are asking for the same level of diligence and care from our visitors that we expect from our residents. We do know that the residents of Hawaiʻi have sacrificed tremendously to reduce the spread of COVID-19 here in our community and we are expecting our guest to treat our residents as we hope and will be treating our guests–to mālama each other, to do our part to keep our community healthy and safe. We’re asking that they wear masks when they come here,” said Gov. Ige.
“We’re asking that they wash their hands and use hand sanitizers. And finally, we’re asking that they maintain physical distancing because we do know that these are the things that each and everyone of us can do to maintain the health and safety of our community here in the islands,” he said.
The governor also extended thanks to all of those involved in getting Hawaiʻi to this point. “We have been planning and preparing for this for months,” he said as he thanked the thousands of employees at the airports, in the hospitality industry, the airlines, hotels and transportation companies, saying the have all “re-envisioned their jobs and their responsibilities to really understand in this post-COVID environment, what each and every one of us need to do to keep our community safe, our employees safe, our residents safe, [and] our guests safe, because we do know and want that each of us should be able to exist and thrive in this COVID environment.”
“I know that this has been a tremendously difficult year for everybody, as we’ve all had to learn to live with COVID-19. I do believe that this is an important milestone for all of us as we move forward in reviving our economy,” said Gov. Ige.
In addition to the pre-test, Maui County is also offering a voluntary, post-arrival test 72 hours after arriving to Maui County. The voluntary second test is at no cost to the traveler. Designated, on-site testing locations will be available at hotels and other locations. Travelers should check with their lodging accommodations for testing locations.
Maui specific information is available here.
To view more details about Safe Travels Hawai‘i and to see a list of FAQs, visit: hawaiicovid19.com
The state’s Office of Enterprise Technology Services also launched a FAQ site to assist travelers with the Safe Travels program. The site guides visitors through the Safe Travels digital form, answers questions about what information travelers need, and has instructions on how to fill out the health questionnaire. You can access the site here: https://ets.hawaii.gov/
Travel and COVID-19 information specific to Maui County is available at the following link: https://www.mauicounty.gov
To report violators in Maui County, call (808) 244-6400 or email [email protected]