LIHU‘E — Gov. David Ige has declined the county’s plans for a 72-hour post-travel COVID-19 test, or two-test program, for incoming travelers to Kaua‘i.
Mayor Derek Kawakami made the announcement Monday.
“While this news is disappointing, we have said since day one that we must be flexible and ready to adapt to our ever-changing environment in order to keep our community safe,” Kawakami said in a press release. “Today is no different.”
Beginning Oct. 15, incoming travelers to the state who are currently subject to the mandatory two-week quarantine will be exempt if they provide evidence of a negative U.S. Food and Drug Administration-authorized NAAT (nucleic acid amplification test) result from a certified lab administered within 72 hours of arrival to Hawai‘i.
The two-test program proposed by the county would have required all travelers, interisland and trans-Pacific, to take a second COVID-19 test no sooner than 72 hours after arrival to the island to avoid the quarantine. The test would have been at the expense of the traveler.
On Friday, the county announced it had purchased 15,000 rapid, same-day COVID-19 tests. While there are no tests that are approved by the FDA, the administration has issued “Emergency Use Authorizations,” which are the kits the county bought, a county spokesperson said Monday.
The county allocated $1 million of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds for the tests.
With this recent announcement, the county must now “re-prioritize how we intend to utilize” the tests, the spokesperson said.
“Our county administration has been clear that a single pre-arrival testing program alone does not provide the needed level of protection for our Kaua‘i community,” Kawakami said.
Last week, he noted that the state’s plan appears to “prioritize our visitors first” because it does not allow interisland travelers to shorten or avoid the two-week quarantine.
“We are now developing a plan on how we can still utilize these tests to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on our island in light of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s pre-travel testing program which will commence on Oct. 15.”
Kaua‘i District Health Officer Dr. Janet Berreman said a second 72-hour test was a “solid middle ground” as opposed to a seven-day test and would have provided “considerable protection while also helping bring our economy back.”
“The evidence is clear that neither a single test before travel, nor a second test upon arrival at the airport provides sufficient protection for our community,” Berreman said.
Berreman explained that the county opted for a 72-hour test with consideration for the concerns of the tourism industry and local healthcare providers. The county will continue working toward ways to protect the island from an outbreak.
“I am concerned that relying on a single pre-travel test as an alternative to quarantine will introduce COVID-19 to Kaua‘i at levels that will strain our public health and healthcare systems, and put our community at risk,” Berreman said. “I will continue to work with the Mayor and the team to find alternative approaches to continuing to protect our community to the best of our abilities, while also facilitating the responsible return of more diverse economic activity.”
In a Facebook video on Sunday, Lt. Gov. Josh Green addressed the second test program, saying it would be “problematic” as it would overload testing capacity. Green said tests should be prioritized for first responders and high-risk groups, not travelers. However, Kaua‘i’s proposal would not have used local tests.
“We need to make sure the policies match our need,” Green said.
The Office of the Governor did not respond to a request for comment before press time.
The county currently has zero active cases of COVID-19.
The Hawai‘i Department of Health reported 52 new positive cases on Monday; one new case on Maui, 10 on Hawai‘i Island and 41 on O‘ahu for a cumulative total of 12,854 cases statewide.
There are currently 2,202 active cases throughout the state, with 128 hospitalized and 39 in intensive care units.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.