Tourists heading to Hawaii can now avoid the island’s 14-day quarantine if they take a state-approved COVID-19 test before arrival. The first passengers under the new rules left San Francisco International Airport on Thursday morning. (Oct. 15)
About 8,000 people landed in Hawaii on the first day of a pre-travel testing program that allowed travelers to come to the islands without quarantining for two weeks if they could produce a negative coronavirus test.
Angela Margos was among the first passengers in San Francisco to get on a plane to Hawaii Thursday morning.
“Vacation, peace of mind,” said Margos, a nurse from San Carlos, California, of why she’s flying to Hawaii. “I need time to relax, unwind.”
The new testing program is an effort to stem the devastating downturn the pandemic has had on Hawaii’s tourism-based economy. Officials had touted the mandatory quarantine rule as an integral part of Hawaii’s early success in keeping the coronavirus at bay.
But gaps in the pre-travel testing program coupled with increasing cases of COVID-19 across the U.S. have raised questions about whether Hawaii is ready to safely welcome back vacationers.
And when local restrictions were eased before summertime holidays, community spread of the disease spiked to alarming levels, forcing a second round of stay-at-home orders for residents and closures for non-essential businesses.
Margos ran into hiccups with getting her test. She first did it at the hospital where she works, only to find out it wasn’t an approved site for United Airlines and the state of Hawaii. She then paid $105 for a drive-thru test, but she was later informed there was an error with that test.
State officials assist visitors at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in Honolulu. A new pre-travel testing program will allow visitors who test negative for COVID-19 to come to Hawaii and avoid two weeks of mandatory quarantine goes into effect Thursday. The pandemic has caused a devastating downturn on Hawaii’s tourism-based economy. Coronavirus weary residents and struggling business owners in Hawaii will be watching closely as tourists begin to return to the islands. (Photo: Marco Garcia, AP)
Margos ultimately paid $250 for a fast-result test Thursday at the airport in San Francisco, which came back negative.
Opponents of the testing program have said a single test 72 hours before arrival — especially when coupled with the option to fly without a test and still quarantine — is not enough to keep island residents safe.
Kathleen Miyashita and her husband were among those who came to Hawaii Thursday without getting tested. They said they plan to quarantine at their family’s farm on Oahu.
“We chose to do the 14-day quarantine,” Miyashita said. “We have no issues with having food being brought in. It’s like a quarantining haven in terms of having fresh fruits and vegetables at home.”
She said she and her husband were “not at all” concerned about being asymptomatic carriers of the disease.
“We’ve been traveling, and we just