Pre-pandemic travel norms are on their way back to the Hawaiian Islands.
All restrictions on inter-island travel throughout Hawai´i are set be lifted later this month, marking the first time state residents and visitors will be able to move entirely unencumbered in well over a year. The rollbacks will apply to all individuals, regardless of vaccination status.
“On Tuesday, June 15, we will be ending restrictions on inter-county travel,” Governor David Ige announced at a press conference Friday. “There will be no testing (and) no quarantine requirements.”
Hawai´i residents returning from the mainland will also have an easier time beginning on the same date. Anyone who has been vaccinated in the islands, and whom the state can verify, will no longer be required to take a pre-travel COVID test in order to avoid quarantine.
The moves combine to create the first step in Hawai´i’s plan to welcome back all US visitors and return the paradigm of island travel back to its pre-pandemic form.
By mid-June, Ige said the state expects 55% of its residents to be fully vaccinated. According to the Department of Health, approximately 52% of Hawai´i residents had completed their vaccination schedules as of June 4. Right around 59% had received at least one dose.
When the fully vaccinated population hits 60%, the governor said the state will have enough protection to allow for the second step in the rollback plan. At that point, any trans-Pacific travelers coming to Hawai´i from someplace in the US or its territories will be allowed to forego testing and quarantine requirements simply by producing their hand-held vaccination cards. Where they were vaccinated will not matter, as long as it was somewhere inside the US.
Ige said the state will attempt to electronically verify that individuals who claim to be vaccinated did, in fact, receive the shots — an initiative that has been underway for months through third-party vendors. There have been instances throughout the US in which hand-held vaccination cards were falsified, which qualifies as a federal crime. However, Ige said electronic verification will not necessarily be required to allow for testing and quarantine exemption, depending on the circumstances.
Hawai´i will abandon its Safe Travels Program entirely when the state reaches a fully vaccinated rate of 70% of its residents. This is also when indoor mask restrictions will be abolished.
“When we reach 70% statewide, all restrictions on travel will be lifted and the Safe Travels Program will be ended,” Ige said.
Vaccination rates and demand for more doses have declined sharply, as Hawai´i just turned away 60% of its most recent weekly vaccine allotment, citing a a lack of demand. This reality begs the question: What happens if the state never hits an inoculation rate of 70%?
The answer, Ige said, is that if COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates remain low enough, and more dangerous variants don’t begin tearing through the vaccinated and un-vaccinated populations alike, that Hawai´i could return to pre-pandemic travel and gathering norms before hitting the 70% mark — assuming it ever does.
The flip side of that coin is that if a more contagious and/or deadly variant did take hold in the islands, causing infection and hospitalization rates to rise, COVID restrictions could be brought back into play.
“I can, and will, change policies based on health conditions we see and the rate of virus circulating in our community,” the governor declared.
Authorities are not going to linger complacently to see where the inoculation rate ultimately dries up.
Efforts have been made to establish hundreds of easily accessible vaccination sites statewide, with at least 339 to be available over the duration of June. Locations will include malls, farmers’ markets, beaches and community centers. Walk-in hours will also be expanded, just as age demographics have been. Currently, all those 12 years and older are eligible for inoculation.
As of Friday, June 4, DOH has also launched a website (www.higotvaccinated.com) listing an array of incentives and prize giveaways for those who are, or who become, vaccinated.
They include minor discounts at grocery stores and restaurants statewide with proof of a vaccination card. They also include raffles for prizes, like round-trip tickets to Las Vegas, groceries for a year and $1,000 gift cards to select locations, among several others.
Media outlets reported that the website had already crashed due to heavy traffic just minutes after the URL was announced at Friday afternoon’s press conference. DOH officials on-hand said it has employees dedicated to digital maintenance and asked those interested in visiting the website to keep trying, as it will be up and running again shortly.
For more news on incentive and vaccination programs, visit BigIslandNow.com.