Lt. Gov. Josh Green. PC: Office of the Governor
Hawai‘i’s kama’aina economy is slowly picking back up, but the economic ravaging that rendered nearly a quarter of a million people in the state unemployed in a matter of weeks won’t truly begin to recede until mass tourism can resume.
To that end, Lieutenant Governor Josh Green on Monday announced his “Travel With Aloha” initiative, which proposes all those who want to travel to Hawai‘i receive a rapid turnaround test for COVID-19. If they test negative, they could be exempted from the stipulations of the mandatory, 14-day travel quarantine.
The plan is not law and has not been implemented, only proposed by Green as a potential future solution to the state’s ailing economy.
“The concept is to get a negative test within 72 hours before you travel, so that not only are you feeling safe, but the next group over feels safe and our workers and our hotel teams feel safe,” Green said. “Everyone will feel better if we know that we’re traveling with aloha.”
The travel quarantine is currently in effect until May 31, though the Hawai‘i State Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 speculated in its most recent meeting that the quarantine period is likely to be extended. The committee did not specify for how long or when the extension would be made, as those decisions rest with Governor David Ige.
Hawai‘i can’t stop people from coming to the islands, as confirmed by the Federal Aviation Administration. But the quarantine, coupled with the punishments for it (up to a $5,000 fine and up to one year in jail) and a general hesitancy to travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have effectively quashed upwards of 98% to 99% of travel to Hawai‘i since late March.
Sunday’s statewide air arrival totals. Image courtesy of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Green’s plan would allow for the protections provided by the quarantine to remain in effect for however long the administration deemed them necessary while also allowing a six-figure workforce to begin leaving the unemployment line.
The Travel With Aloha program took a big step toward becoming a reality Friday when the US Food and Drug Administration issued emergency authorization for a new antigen test produced by the Quidel Corporation. The test is billed as a quicker and cheaper alternative to current testing methods.
Conducted via nasal swab, Quidel’s rapid test can be turned around on-site within minutes by identifying proteins consistent with COVID-19.
An ideal test for travel is one that can determine if a person has been sick in the last 72 hours, and which can confirm results quickly enough for that information to matter. Quidel’s test accomplishes both of these things.
“These are the kind of developments that make it very easy to test people before they travel,” Green said.
The Lieutenant Governor praised the caution with which the state has proceeded to this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, and he has been a key adviser in the decision making. At some point, however, he said Hawai‘i will need to reopen in force, and that includes its top-grossing industry.
“My hope is the quarantine can be minimized with this travel with aloha concept, and that’s the purpose … to be able to bring tourists here safely without extra risk to our people,” Green said. “And we won’t have to worry about people breaking quarantine.”
Statewide antibody testing will also be an important step to reopening mass tourism. Hawai‘i recently began using the Abbot Labs Antibody Test, a highly accurate blood screen that state officials believe will be available for mass utilization inside of the month.