Senate hears mayors’ Safe Travels perspectives

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.”

  1. Dr jim December 10, 2020 4:23 pm Reply

    Thank you Mayor K,
    Stick to your guns. If we look to the metrics of “success” of the “safe travels” program perhaps we should consider this. Compare us with Maui which is still in the program.
    Both Maui and Kauai have seen more cases since the October 15 reopening than they saw in the previous 7 months.

    Maui has 22 or 22 ICU beds full. 100%. Kauai has 25% of our ICU beds occupied.

    Maui’s positivity rate is 1.5% and ours is 0.7%. The positivity rate is double ours.

    Since November 25 our 7 day average daily new cases are falling from 5 to 1.4. Muai, which was on an almost identical trajectory with us from October 31 through November 25 is now at 7.3 cases per 100,000 population. Hawaii county is also sharply increasing.

    By every meaningful metric, Kauai is doing the right thing for the health of its island.
    Now lets make sure we open in a science based manner to provide for the economy of the island. Be kind to each other and take care of those in need.

  2. Aloha808 December 10, 2020 7:45 pm Reply

    Since Safe Travels opened, Big Island of Hawaii has implemented a two-test system. The traveler bore the cost of the pre-test, while the County of Hawaii covered the cost of the post-test for transpacific travelers as well as inter-island Kama’aina. They used CARES act monies to cover the post-arrival testing costs. They worked with Ige to create safety and support the economy of the Big Island. This would have been a better route for Kauai to open up with, instead of opening up with the attitude of resentment towards Ige, and that tourism was going to make everyone sick. But we didn’t want to pay for the 2nd test for transpacific folks, and wanted these travelers to quarantine 3 days until they received their 2nd test – Ige didn’t like that this was inconsistent with all of Hawaii, so Kauai played victim and opened by Ige’s standards. So we opened, only to close as fear set in. Still, it would have been wiser to start out like the Big Island with 2 tests (cover costs of 2nd test with CARES money), and give the project a chance, then ask for stricter measures as needed. It also would be nice if right now, like the Big Island, there was a way for inter-island travelers to take a 2nd test 3 days into quarantine so that they could be set free if their test is negative. People have jobs, appointments, families on other islands, and traveling would be easier for us if this option was available. Travel is essentially closed for Kauai, yet now cases show up each day still, and on top of that many frustrated/worried people are out of jobs, furloughed, losing businesses, etc.

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