The mandatory, 14-day interisland travel quarantine will remain in effect for the foreseeable future.
Gov. David Ige on Wednesday held a press conference, granting direct media availability for the first time in two weeks. The last time the governor took to the microphone in mid-September was to announce plans to launch a pre-travel testing program that would allow tourists to earn trans-Pacific quarantine exemptions by certifying a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours of travel. On Wednesday, he stepped to the podium to explain the same sort of system for interisland travel is not yet feasible.
“The 14-day quarantine for travel between O‘ahu and neighbor islands will remain in place,” Ige said. “The challenge is access to tests.”
People arriving from overseas will be required to pay for their own out-of-state tests and receive a negative result before traveling. Kaiser Permanente and CVS will be contracted to help administer those tests, while Hawaiian Airlines and United have both announced plans to offer rapid turnaround tests for their passengers. Other airlines, like American, are exploring the idea as well.
Any tests used for interisland travel would come from the state’s supply, which it can’t currently spare.
“Our concern is the number of tests we currently have available,” Ige said.
Local labs have the capacity to process between 3,000 and 5,000 tests per day. Prior to the pandemic, a typical interisland travel load registered at between 20,000 and 25,000 passengers.
The governor said the state’s testing capacity, in both the volume of tests available and processing capability, will not need to reach 20,000 before interisland travel sheds quarantine restrictions.
However, diverting tests for casual, lower priority travel at this time would be imprudent, the governor said.
“We want to make sure that testing capacity is available for the highest priority needs,” said Ige, noting that high priorities include testing those who are symptomatic, as well as tests for their contacts and post-contacts. “Priorities (are also) for long-term care facilities and first responders who may be exposed. Typically, we conduct 2,000 to 3,000 tests every day. We want to make sure that we don’t take away from that capacity for leisure travel or travel that wouldn’t be as high a priority.”
The state is attempting to increase local testing capacity to 12,000 daily. Part of that initiative will include the pursuit of agreements with out-of-state labs. There are also a number of new COVID-19 tests now available that are under evaluation, which may help the state to reach its goal.
Ige provided no firm date or timeline for when he might repeal Hawai‘i’s mandatory interisland travel quarantine.