HONOLULU — The State of Hawai‘i’s Attorney General Clare Connors confirmed that Gov. David Ige will follow the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quarantine recommendation of 10 days instead of 14 days in an emergency proclamation next week.
In a meeting on Tuesday, Connors addressed questions from the House Committee on Labor & Tourism and the Committee on Transportation and went over what a passenger with a vaccine exemption may do while vacationing in Hawai‘i.
“It’s a limited modified quarantine order,” Connors said. “It gives the visitor the ability to move around our state, otherwise you have to stay in your hotel.”
Lt. Gov. Josh Green explained the Safe Travel program’s vaccine exemption plans further.
“The moment that people are vaccinated with their shots, they should be able to travel,” Green said. “Nationally, it’s going to be a small number, but by February and March we will start to see a lot of people being (vaccinated).”
Green pointed out that those with a vaccine exemption would have a different process to follow.
“They will be immune,” Green said. “They will have to check a simple check box on the form…and show some kind of evidence or document from their Health Care provider…or else people will just mark that check box.”
Safe Travel funding a question
Although the Safe Travel Program is in its second month of operating around the state, Major General and Director of the Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) Kenneth Hara said the program is set to run for six months costing the state millions of dollars. The state is still looking for a funding source.
“I can give you the total cost of the Safe Travel Program-from pre-travel, digital platform, web base, public-facing sites through the screening process is 18 million dollars for six months, Hara said. “But you will have to ask Dr. Char for the Department of Health’s contact tracking, which does not include helping those infected with quarantine arrangements.”
Department of Health Director Elizabeth Char did make a short virtual appearance but did not give a presentation.
“As far as Safe Travel I don’t believe we have a whole lot,” Char said. “It has been nabbing at our senior staff more, by helping people find lodging because they have a positive test, and would need to quarantine. Specifically, I would have to go back and take a look at that.”
Since Nov. 30, positive travel-related cases were at 299. C & C Honolulu at 101, Kaua‘i at 58, Maui County at 67, and Hawai‘i at 73, Green reported.
Chair Richard Onishi questioned why there is a discrepancy between what the County of Kaua‘i reporting on positive cases and the state’s reporting.
“Actually there is no discrepancy, the count runs a test on day 4, and we have a small data, and it’s clear, we use their data…they demonstrated 58, so that is the data, I use their data when we were talking about it,” Green said.
Between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7, Green said the state’s surveillance post-test program screened 514,903 incoming travelers, exempted 456,741 travelers, and placed 13,075 in quarantine. Out of those numbers, 158,369 were residents, and 356,534 were visitors.
Green satisfied with results
According to some of the House members, there were several problems with the Safe Travel program that their constituents were facing, with certain partnered testing companies.
“So a lot of our testing partners only go down to age 12, as you know, but the mail-in ones go all the way down and they will walk you through it via Zoom,” Green said. “What we do have are some partners far across the county. They hustle for us, Vault, we hear a lot of positive feedback about them…there are rare incidents when they can’t get the test results in 72 hours.”
Although the members had more concerns regarding the program both Green and Hara said they were satisfied with the Safe Travel program thus far and think Hawai‘i is leading the nation.
“What I failed to mention, the reason Hawai‘i is so successful is primarily because of the actions of the people of Hawai‘i compiling with the guidelines, like wearing a mask, washing your hands and watching your distance,” Hara said. “The biggest cause or threat is social gatherings. You shouldn’t have more than five people in your home.
“We need to hunker down a little longer, a vaccine is on its way,” Hara said.
Green said the plan has been effective so far but in his presentation, he made some recommendations for the Governor to consider.
Green would like the program to increase the pre-test window to 96 hours, from the current 72 hours, add secondary antigen test upon arrival for all passengers in all counties, develop an exemption process for vaccinated individuals and increase mask use.
Chair Onishi said if Ige allowed Kaua‘i to have a three-day quarantine instead of the 14-day quarantine, as requested, maybe the outcome would have been better for businesses.
“We need to look at our priorities, businesses need assistance. We don’t know what is happening with federal funding…childcare, business, restaurants, schools, there is a lot of need,” House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti said. “We need to a striking a balance of public health and economic recovery.”
Members concurred with Belatti and will focus on balancing protecting the people of Kaua‘i and bringing in visitors safely.
Chair Onishi answered carefully when asked how a Kaua‘i couple was able to board a plane from San Francisco to Lihu‘e last week after receiving positive COVID-19 results.
“We don’t know how they got onto the plane,” Onishi said. “But we will be looking into it.”
The story was updated Thurs. Dec. 10 at 2:15 p.m. with correct information.