LIHU‘E — At least 44 travelers using the state’s Safe Travels received positive COVID-19 test results upon arrival or in the following days, Gov. David Ige reported Thursday.
And 10 of those were on Kaua‘i, with a new instance as recently as Thursday.
Beginning next Tuesday, Nov. 24, domestic and international travelers will need to have their COVID-19 test results before flying to be able to bypass a two-week quarantine, Ige announced.
“We were adding this safety precaution now in response to the dramatically increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the continental United States and around the world,” Ige said. “(Forty-four) isn’t a large number, but it’s enough to change the policy.”
Up until now, if a traveler was waiting on results, they would quarantine until the results came in. In addition to the risk of flying while contagious, this created a backlog of quarantined travelers who needed their tests manually verified.
Mayor Derek Kawakami had been pushing for this change, even requesting earlier this week for a similar enforcement as a local emergency rule.
On Monday, Kawakami and his administration sent two proposals to the governor’s office as fill-ins to the Safe Travels system. The first rule requests a mandatory, 72-hour quarantine with a post-arrival test, and another rule would require the Safe Travel test results prior to flying into the county or face the two-week quarantine.
Kawakami and Ige spoke Wednesday, where the governor expressed support for the latter, which he made official in his Thursday announcement.
“As far as identifying some of the gaps in the Safe Travels system, I really am thankful the governor has decided to require that negative test result,” Kawakami said.
However, he’s waiting to see the details of the policy change before throwing his weight behind it. “It’s still a little premature to say if there’s actually going to be any teeth behind it, but it’s very promising.”
Kawakami is still pushing for a mandatory post-arrival test, preferably three days after arrival. His administration has not formally heard back on that proposed local rule.
“Health experts are saying that you should test as much as you can, and that’s why we felt a mandatory second test is critical,” Kawakami said.
Since Oct. 15, the Safe Travels program has screened over 273,020 people, with about 89% bypassing the quarantine with negative tests. The remaining 7,217 have quarantined, Lt. Gov. Josh Green reported Thursday.
The Safe Travels surveillance and evaluation program has caught 27 positive cases out of 17,270 tests, resulting in about 1.6 out of 1,000 people tested, Green said, noting that positive case counts are primarily due to less restrictions, not incoming travelers.
“It’s mostly us, but that’s because we are with one another at work, at play and so on,” Green said.
Kawakami said he hopes it never gets to the point where the county would need to opt-out of the Safe Travels program, as that would mark a devastating point in the pandemic.
But as travelers come in and open up the island to new potential exposures and risks, the messaging stays the same, Kawakami said.
“It’s about learning how to coexist with a virus, right? We’re not going to go to war against (a fight) we’ll lose,” he said. “You just have to know how to keep yourself safe and literally coexist with it without spreading it.”
And that’s what he’s been saying since the beginning by enforcing mask-wearing, urging increased handwashing and restricting gatherings. The idea of herd immunity, he said, “is not a strategy I would ever advocate for on Kaua‘i.”
“It wouldn’t be in line with our cultural values as far as taking care of our kupuna and taking care of those that need protection,” he said. “Our challenges are the same challenges everywhere else. For me as mayor, I’m very fortunate that we have a community that has been through adversity before because they already know how to come together.”
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.