LIHU‘E — The House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness has submitted a proposal to modify the state’s Safe Travels program which involves offering rapid post-arrival tests to travelers awaiting pre-travel testing results.
The committee suggested modifying the program to allow travelers without their 72-hour pre-travel test who are subject to the two-week quarantine to take a rapid test at the airport, and then once they receive a negative result from the original pre-travel test, be released from the quarantine.
The committee called the first month of the state’s Safe Travels program an “unqualified success” by public health and economic standpoints, but said the newly imposed rule that travelers must have their negative results prior to boarding a flight will be “devastating,” according to Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawai‘i Lodging and Tourism Association.
“Every island and every report shows that room nights are being canceled,” Hannemann said. “That’ll translate to more furloughs, staffing reductions.”
One estimate the committee suggested put room night cancellations at 300-2,000 per property, the report said.
Dr. Mark Mugiishi, president and CEO of the Hawai‘i Medical Service Association, presented the plan at a meeting Monday. He said the average number of new cases per day (96.7 vs. 94.6), test positive rates (2.8 vs. 2), number of hospitalizations (103 vs. 60) and percent of intensive care unit beds occupied (53% vs. 46%) are all lower on Nov. 27 than on Oct. 11, prior to the Safe Travels program.
“If our goal is to achieve a balance between public health and economic health, then this (Safe Travels) program did exactly that,” Mugiishi, co-chair of the public health subcommittee, said.
Mayor Derek Kawakami feels otherwise when it comes down to Kaua‘i.
During the meeting, Kawakami said he agreed that Safe Travels works on a state-level, but that it’s “hard to manage the state with one size fits all (model), especially with a smaller, rural community like Kaua‘i.”
On Kaua‘i, before the Oct. 15 Safe Travels launch, the county had a total of 61 cumulative infections. Since then, the county has seen 70 new cases. Of that, 57 were travel-related, 35 who landed with negative pre-travel test and 16 who received positive pre-travel tests after arrival, Kawakami reported.
Mugiishi said the numbers weren’t “frightening,” but conceded that Kawakami and his team know more about infrastructure than he did.
“We all knew we wouldn’t have our numbers at zero,” Mugiishi said. “Even the numbers that you presented represent less than one person a day.”
One of the local rules Kawakami has suggested includes a mandatory three-day quarantine with a post-arrival test before a traveler can be set loose. This was denied by Gov. David Ige.
The average length of a vacation on Kaua‘i prior to the pandemic was about a week, two days longer than the average stay for the state, Kawakami said. During the pandemic, that average soared, growing to 30 days. Since the start of Safe Travels, Kawakami reports the average stay is about two weeks now. Based on this and the infection incubation period, Kawakami proposed that rule as common ground.
“We are concerned that we don’t have the ability to handle a big outbreak or community spread if it happens,” Kawakami said.
The committee’s suggested Safe Travels modification adds an additional screening layer, allows the tourism industry to continue and reduces the burden of quarantine enforcement, Mugiishi said.