Hawaii to allow travelers to skip quarantine with virus test

FILE - In this June 5, 2020, file photo, a surfer walks on a sparsely populated Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. Hawaii's governor says that starting Oct. 15, travelers arriving from out of state may bypass a 14-day quarantine requirement if they test negative for COVID-19. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii Gov. David Ige said Wednesday that starting Oct. 15, travelers arriving from out of state may bypass a 14-day quarantine requirement if they test negative for COVID-19.

Travelers will have to take the test within 72 hours before their flight arrives in the islands. Ige said drug store operator CVS and healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente will conduct the tests as part of an agreement with the state.

Earlier this year Ige planned to start a pre-travel testing program on Aug. 1 only to have to postpone it as COVID-19 cases spiked on the U.S. mainland and in Hawaii. A shortage of testing supplies also forced delays. Another start date for Sept. 1 was also canceled. Airlines are expected to help inform travelers of the requirement.

Hawaii leaders are hopeful that pre-travel testing will encourage people to return to Hawaii in a way that keeps residents safe. Tourism traffic to the state has plunged more than 90% since the pandemic began, forcing hundreds of hotels to close and pushing many people out of work.

“I want to emphasize that this pre-travel testing will allow us to add a greater element of safety for travel into our state,” Ige said at a news conference.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who joined the news conference via Zoom because he tested positive for the disease and is isolating at home, said the program will provide economic opportunity at a time when so many people are suffering. Upheaval from the pandemic pushed nearly one-quarter of Hawaii’s workforce into joblessness. In April, Hawaii had the third-worst unemployment rate in the nation after Nevada and Michigan.

“I worry about the long term impacts of economic distress and that impact this has on our people, when they can’t afford their homes as easily or groceries or health care,” Green said.

On Wednesday, the state Department of Health reported Hawaii had an average of 118 cases per day for the past seven days. That’s down from a seven-day daily average of 255 on Aug. 28.