LIHU‘E — Beginning Aug 1, the state will implement a pretravel testing program for travelers to Hawai‘i as an alternative to the 14-day quarantine, Gov. David Ige announced Wednesday.
“We are now ready to begin the process to return our economy in a safe and healthy way,” Ige said at a briefing from inside the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu. “People do need to get back to work, but it needs to be in a way that protects the health of our community.”
In August, travelers who have a valid negative test prior to arriving in the state will not be subject to the quarantine. The quarantine will remain in place for those who do not wish to take a pre-travel test.
The state is working on efforts with private businesses on testing, including CVS, which is finalizing a price, Lieutenant Governor Josh Green said.
The state is also looking at establishing the negative result be within 72 hours of the flight, similar to rules adopted by Alaska.
Temperatures screenings will continue in this new plan. Those who clock in at 100.4 or above and those experiencing other coronavirus symptoms will have a secondary screening and test.
On Friday, the legislature will vote on Senate Bill No. 126 that will appropriate funds toward new protocol measures including a thermal screen program at the airport, web-based traveler application, screening and testing facilities as well as supplies for airport officials, State House Speaker Scott K. Saiki said during the briefing.
Green explained that a pre-test will minimize the risk of COVID-19 coming into the state. “We’ve been able to keep the fatality and the illness at bay,” Green said.
On Wednesday, the state reported 16 new cases of COVID-19. Thirteen in O‘ahu, one on the Big Island and two from Hawai‘i residents, one in Nevada and the other in Arizona. Hawai‘i has the lowest number of confirmed cases per capita in the country with 835 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 since March, and about 686 recoveries.
Ige first implemented a self-quarantine in mid-March, which has been instrumental in curbing the virus but has also sparked great economic downturn in a state where tourism is the leading industry. Over 200,000 residents have filed for unemployment since March.
On Tuesday, 1,512 people arrived in the state, including 409 visitors, 454 returning residents and 185 military members, according to the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority. The state continues to work on travel bubbles with Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
More cases are anticipated as sanctions expire, but the state has increased testing and contact tracing capacity. “With an increase in COVID cases, our health care system will not be overwhelmed,” Ige said.
The state is able to process between 4,000 to 5,000 cases per today, with a one-day turn around on O‘ahu and next day for neighbor islands, Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson said. And over 600 contact tracers can monitor 20 people at a time.
Anderson said wearing masks, hand-washing, staying at home while sick and social distancing are still the most important steps to limiting the spread of the virus.
Tuesday night, the Department of Justice issued a statement of interest challenging the constitutionality of Ige’s out-of-state traveler quarantine.
Ige said he did not announce this plan Wednesday because of the DOJ’s statement.
The DOJ states that the quarantine “effectively discriminates against out-of-state residents,” partially because of the lifted travel sanctions for inter-island travelers.
“This effective discrimination, based on the evidence and argument presented thus far, appears to be inadequately tailored to further public safety and therefore does not comply with the Constitution,” the statement reads.
The statement, submitted by Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Alexander Maugeri and U.S. Attorney Kenji Price of the District of Hawai‘i, supports the lawsuit filed by Nevada and California residents who own property in Hawai‘i.
Earlier this month, a dozen Kaua‘i residents with one Hawai‘i Island resident represented by the Attorneys for Freedom of Law Firm filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Ige’s emergency orders, naming the state, Ige and Attorney General Clare Connors in the suit.
In the statement of interest, the DOJ compared Hawai‘i to Alaska, which has less implemented restrictive quarantine mandates.
While Alaska also enforces a 14-day quarantine, out-of-state residents can waive it by testing negative for COVID-19 before their flight, quarantining until they receive a negative test result after landing or by providing evidence of a coronavirus recovery. Similar to what Ige announced Wednesday.
“Reasonable measures designed to protect the public are not only appropriate, but responsible during a pandemic, and the Constitution does not bind the hands of state officials who, through careful thought and deliberation impose such measures,” Price said. “However, there are bounds to the discretion our public officials have during times of crisis.”
Saiki targeted Price, saying this undermines the credibility of his office.
“Governor Ige’s 14-day quarantine order is not discriminatory because it applies to all travelers,” Saiki said. “Mr. Price’s opposition to the quarantine disregards the health and safety of Hawaiʻi’s residents and economy. Mr. Price’s action has unfortunately undermined the credibility and objectivity of the Office of the U.S. Attorney.”
Connors echoed this during the briefing, saying that the state quarantine and other emergency rules are fully in compliance with the law.
The federal case is Carmichael, et al. v. Ige, Case No. 1:20-cv-00273 JAO-WRP.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.