LIHU‘E — County mayors made their case to the state’s Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 calling for modifications to the state’s Safe Travels program on Wednesday.
Last Friday, the mayors submitted a proposal requiring a post-arrival test to be taken at the end of a three- to four-day quarantine. The shortened quarantine would be a stop-gap for those who have had trouble receiving pre-travel results within the 72-hour arrival period. Currently, the program forces those who have not received their test into a mandatory 14-day quarantine with no way to get out.
Mayors expressed their agreement that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy, and that’s been heard time and time again from County of Kaua‘i Mayor Derek Kawakami who temporarily suspended participation in the Safe Travels program to flatten a spike in travel-related and community-transmitted infections.
Prior to the state’s Oct. 15 reopening, the county had a cumulative total of 61 COVID-19 cases. Through Dec. 9, the county recorded an additional 84 since then, 62 of which were travel related. Fifteen cases have been linked to community transmission, which the county had not recorded since July.
“I know that we have received some criticism for perhaps overreacting,” Kawakami said. “I don’t think we’re overreacting. I think we’re looking at the numbers, and the numbers don’t lie. … The numbers have made us rethink if a single pre-travel test is enough.”
But that’s not to say the Safe Travels program isn’t working from a state perspective, Kawakami said.
On a state-wide level, Hawai‘i has one of the lowest infection rates in the country, Lt. Gov. John Green said. “By any standard, Hawai‘i is doing better than virtually anyone else,” he said.
Through Dec. 8, the state has welcomed 522,164 people screened through Safe Travels. There have been 462,949, or 89% of those, who have been exempt. Statewide, as of Nov. 30, 299 people have reported positive travel-related cases.
“We were given one option, you’re either in it or you’re out (of Safe Travels), which is a horrible, horrible option to give to a county that has been relatively successful,” Kawakami said.
Before the state launched the Safe Travels program in mid-October, Kawakami requested a modification to enforce a post-arrival test to incoming travelers. This new county mayors-unified plan is similar to this proposal that was denied even though the county acquired its own stockpile of COVID-19 test kits and formed partnerships to have the tests conducted on island.
“We stand firm that this is the best path forward,” Kawakami said.
Mayor Michael Victorino of Maui agreed that a second test and pre-test would be optimal, but there is “no 100% fail-safe method” until a vaccine is available, and that Kaua‘i is a good ground-zero due to low community-transmission.
However, Victorino said there’s been a lot of discourse and confusion even though everybody is working toward the same goal.
“I would like to see the House and Senate start working to find a compromise,” Victorino said. “The health and wellbeing of our residents is paramount.”