LIHU‘E — If approved, by the first week of April travelers coming to Kaua‘i may utilize the state’s single-pre-travel-test option to bypass a state-mandated quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test.
On Tuesday, Mayor Derek Kawakami submitted a proposal to Gov. David Ige requesting the County of Kaua‘i’s reinstatement into the state’s Safe Travels program, effective April 5.
“Kaua‘i remains one of the safest places in the United States throughout the pandemic, thanks to the efforts of our community-minded residents and health-focused travel restrictions,” Kawakami said in a Tuesday statement.
“Over the past few months, our community’s efforts have allowed us this opportunity to safely rejoin the state’s Safe Travels program.”
The April date will give the county time to inoculate essential workers in the tourism industry.
“The (state) Department of Health is confident that hospitality- and food-service-industry employees will be offered vaccines in the month of March,” said Sarah Blane, Kawakami’s chief of staff.
More than 24,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, of both the Moderna and Pfizer, have been distributed across first responders, health-care professionals and staff, educators and kupuna over 75, as well as essential workers like grocery-store clerks and agriculture laborers.
State DOH Kaua‘i District Health Office Officer Dr. Janet Berreman said vaccine distribution played a factor in her support.
“It has been one year since the pandemic reached Hawai‘i, and we thank the people of Kaua‘i for their sacrifices which have allowed us to remain safe, healthy and open,” Berreman said.
“With the distribution of vaccine to high-risk groups and the improving situation on the mainland, the Kaua‘i District Health Office supports opening trans-Pacific travel with a single pre-travel test at this time,” said Berreman.
Additionally, the county has worked with hospitals and care providers on action plans.
“Our local hospitals are working closely together, and have surge plans in place for additional ICU capacity if needed,” Kawakami said. “They have also obtained more equipment and have COVID testing and treatment options available to respond to any increase in COVID-19 cases.”
The state launched its Safe Travels program in mid-October last year, which allows travelers to bypass a state-mandated, 10-day quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of travel through a state-approved partner.
After a series of requests for post-arrival testing options that were denied, the County of Kaua‘i was given approval to enforce a full quarantine, temporarily suspending its participation in Safe Travels in December, effectively halting a spike in infections linked to travel and community spread.
Since Jan. 5, the county began allowing inter-island travelers to participate in Safe Travels, so long as they can prove physical presence in the state for at least 72 hours.
Out-of-state travelers who do not stay on another island for three days prior may stay at a resort bubble with a negative pre-travel test. After three days contained to the resort’s property, these travelers may take another COVID-19 test. Upon a negative result, they are released from quarantine. This post-arrival test falls under U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for both pre- and post- travel tests.
“While post-travel tests will not be mandatory, we are grateful to our visitor-industry partners for going above and beyond to keep our community safe by encouraging their guests to take a test after arrival,” Kawakami said. “We have a number of Kaua‘i properties already committed, and we expect more to come online in the coming weeks.”
The county’s rules, which currently differ from other islands, hurt an already-devastated tourism industry, which saw a 74% drop in visitor arrivals from 2019 to 2020, according to a preliminary Hawai‘i Tourism Authority report in January.
At the state’s House of Representatives, House Bill 1286, which seeks to establish a unified Safe Travels program, has been moving through committees with the support of many hoteliers and business owners.
This bill, Blane said, did not have any impact on the county’s request.
“As with all other Kaua’i COVID policy decisions, we relied on guidance from our health officials, namely the ability for our district health office to offer vaccines to our high-risk populations, such as first responders, hospitality-industry workers and our kupuna,” Blane said in an email.
Mark Perriello, president of the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce, commended this step and Kawakami’s efforts.
“This means visitors to Kaua‘i will no longer face additional hurdles to vacationing here, and that should lead to an increase in tourism,” Perriello said. “With so many of our residents dependent on tourism to feed their families, this is a welcome development.”
Without tourism, businesses and resorts have struggled.
“When tourists don’t spend money on Kaua‘i, many of our residents have trouble feeding their families and keeping a roof over their head,” Perriello said.
Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau, pointed to tourism partners who have been struggling.
“We have all worked hard to protect our island community from the COVID pandemic, and believe now is the right time to rejoin Safe Travels,” Kanoho said. “Special thanks to the visitor industry, who have supported their employees during this challenging time.”
Proof of a vaccine is not an option to bypass the quarantine, per state rules, and non-Kaua‘i residents will not be allowed to receive vaccines on-island.
“We continue to monitor new developments, particularly the transmission of new variants, and we emphasize the need for everyone to continue to practice mask-wearing, physical distancing and other safety precautions,” Berreman said.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.