LIHU‘E — The county is attempting to fill gaps in and improve the state’s Safe Travels program that allows travelers to bypass a mandatory, two-week quarantine.
County of Kaua‘i Managing Director Michael Dahilig confirmed that the county is “revisiting” a post-arrival test program that was denied by Gov. David Ige in October prior to the state’s reopening.
Recent COVID-19 spikes in the state and mainland are concerning, Dahilig said yesterday at a Kaua‘i County Council meeting to brief members on how the county is handling tourism in the age of COVID-19. He assured the council the administration is working on various plans.
“The discussion has not ended at this point,” Dahilig said, adding that the county is working with its attorneys on the request. “We need to remain vigilant in ensuring that we do not let the issues rest because there has been a decision in the past.”
A county spokesperson said in an email Thursday that they are working with the state on “adjustments or improvements (that) would be in line with the overall Safe Travels program.” An announcement could come as early as today.
“Given the situation on the mainland and increasing cases here at home, the county sees the need to make adjustments to the current (state Safe Travels) program,” the spokesperson said in an email.
The state’s pre-travel Safe Travels testing program allows travelers to bypass a still-instituted, two-week quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test through a state-trusted partner within 72 hours of arrival in the state. Among some of the issues with the state’s program is that travelers are taking tests through non-state partners or are receiving positive results after arrival in the state.
“For issues that can’t or won’t be addressed at the state level, Mayor Kawakami would consider proposing a local rule,” a spokesperson said.
Since the state reopened almost a month ago, the county has seen about 1,000 to 1,500 visitors daily, Dahilig reported. These numbers are expected to increase going into the holidays and winter months with the expectation of annual snowbirds flying down.
Lihu‘e Airport is receiving about nine trans-Pacific and 11 interisland flights per day, Dahilig said, which is also expected to go up as airlines ramp up numbers of flights.
Last month, the county purchased 15,000 rapid COVID-19 tests to be used in a program that would have required incoming travelers participating in the state’s pre-travel test to opt-out of the mandatory 14-day quarantine by taking a rapid test.
This program was denied by Ige and, instead, the county put those tests toward voluntary post-arrival testing programs. One is free to returning residents and the other costs about $150 for non-residents, who are then given about $150 in vouchers.
If a traveler comes into the county and receives a positive test, they are directed into isolation, which must be a hotel or motel for tourists or a home for a resident. The state Department of Health Kaua‘i District Health Office, along with the Kaua‘i Visitor’s Bureau, has helped coordinate isolation zones for those unable to make arrangements themselves.
The county’s isolation facility, the former Adolescent Healing and Treatment Center in Kapaia, is still in use by the state. Those staying there are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, Dahilig said.
The county estimates that about 25% of incoming travelers are in quarantine, which is about 1,900 people being monitored by the Kaua‘i Police Department and Hawai‘i National Guard.
The county is still on its least-restrictive Tier 4, with a rolling seven-day average of 1.57 new positive cases reported. The county, with the guidance of the DOH Kaua‘i District Health Office, began adding positive traveler cases to its case count. Typically, positive cases are added to the county of origin.
As of Thursday afternoon, the county had 16 active cases, including eight diagnosed off-island. To date, the county has seen 86 confirmed cases, one probable case and eight off-island cases. There are currently two hospitalized cases.
If the county hits a week daily average of two, it will enter Tier 3, which enforces stricter indoor and outdoor gathering sizes.