LIHU‘E — Kauai County inched closer on Wednesday to a two-test system to detect COVID-19 infections once the state opens further to tourism on Oct. 15 as Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami formally asked the governor’s office to approve a program to require a second test after visitors arrive on the island.
Kawakami apparently made the request of Gov. David Ige on Wednesday, but there was no official announcement and it was not clear when county officials could give additional details about how the new second test would be administered. County spokespeople did not respond to requests for additional detail.
Ige’s office also did not respond to a query from The Garden Island about whether Kawakami’s request would be granted. Even with the confusion, however, experts on Kaua‘i’s COVID response applauded the mayor’s request as enabling greater certainty about whether people arriving here — either visitors or residents — may be carrying the infection.
Thursday, Kawakami’s office released a brief statement, which said:
“In light of the state’s pre-travel testing program, we are looking to implement additional rules and regulations specifically for Kaua‘i given our size and medical capacity. We have requested the governor’s authorization to implement a pilot post-arrival testing program for all incoming arrivals to Kaua‘i.
“This program would require all travelers – transpacific and interisland — who wish to avoid a full 14-day quarantine to take a test no sooner than 72 hours after arrival to Kaua‘i. We are currently awaiting approval of this pilot proposal from the governor in an effort to have the program up and running by Oct. 15.”
As the testing requirement currently stands, trans-pacific travelers who arrive can escape the mandatory 14-day quarantine by showing they have had negative result from a COVID test administered within three days of arrival.
Thursday afternoon, the mayor’s office released a brief statement amplifying on the request to Ige. “Our Kaua‘i incident management team continues to work on those details,” said a spokesperson of questions about how the system would actually work. “The idea is to be able to expand our testing capacity as to not take away capacity from our residents.”
Many questions about how the new program would actually work remained unanswered. The governor has not made clear how inter-island travelers will be handled under the announced one-test system. Skeptics have charged that the governor’s announced single test policy is riven by exceptions and lack of clarity about its requirements.
Still later Wednesday, the mayor further clarified that the new Kaua‘i proposal would require incoming trans-pacific travelers to take the pre-test as part of the state’s program to be eligible for the Kaua‘i post-arrival test program.
“For interisland travelers, because they are not included in the state pre-test program,” the mayor’s office said, “we would only require a post-arrival test in order to be exempt.”
Kawakami’s new second test proposal would move Kaua‘i substantially closer to recommendations originally made in June by the Kaua‘i COVID-19 Discussion group, an ad hoc group of doctors and public figures. The group recommended requiring two COVID tests for visitors to Kaua‘i, separated by a six-day quarantine.
The mayor’s proposal requires slightly less time in quarantine than the discussion group recommended.
But Dr. Lee Evslin, a founder of the group and a long-time pediatrician on the island welcomed the mayor’s proposal.
“I am very impressed and pleased that Mayor Kawakami and Dr. (Janet) Berreman (the Hawai‘i state district health officer for Kaua‘i) are pushing hard for state permission to quarantine on Kaua‘i for the additional time that it takes to get a second test,” Evslin said Thursday.
“I understand the economic pressures are real and are driving these ideas for reopening our tourism-related economies. A second test after 72 hours is far safer than a single pre-test and I understand that it may have been hard to even have the county considered for an exception, but a second test after six to seven days in quarantine is still much safer.”
While Evslin said he would still prefer the slightly longer quarantine period, “if the data look good and we stay safe, consider shortening further the time in quarantine.”
One of the uncertainties about requiring a second test relates to how sufficient testing supplies can be found and stockpiled on island to provide capacity to test all incoming tourists and returning residents. The issue was not addressed in Kawakami’s statement.
Evslin cautioned that the second test with a quarantine period in between may still not be enough to prevent a surge in COVID infections on the island. “If we have a surge, we may have to shut down again, keep our schools closed, and put our people and hospital capacities at risk,” Evslin said.
“I believe a surge in cases is a much worse economic driver than a phased re-opening. Vermont is requiring a quarantine until a second test after seven days. And other states are also quite concerned and acting on those concerns.”
Disclosure of Kawakami’s request of the governor also coincided with recent statements by at least two resorts properties that they are moving forward with plans to create “bubbles” that will isolate guests who arrive from elsewhere by limiting their movements and keeping them from leaving the resort properties.
The plans, which were confirmed by managers at the Club at Kukuiula in Koloa and Hokuala-Timbers Ocean Club and Resort in Lihu‘e, appeared as recently as last week to be potentially superfluous, even though creation of the bubbles has been heavily promoted within the visitor industry by the Kawakami administration.
With the new request to allow Kauai to require a second test with an interim quarantine, the model the two resorts — and as many as three or four others, according to county sources — the county’s prospective test/quarantine strategy began to take on fuller dimensions in terms of how it could be implemented.
Former County Council member and mayor JoAnn Yukimura had expressed serious reservations about the impending Oct. 15 one-test system, arguing it could increase the statewide total of COVID cases by as many as 1,100 in just the first month after it began.
Yukimura was also a founder of the COVID discussion group and has been a persistent critic of the state’s and the county’s plans for reopening. The one-test system, she said, “will devastate the health and safety of the people of Hawai‘i, leading to another shutdown and economic devastation, not recovery.”