Angela Margos was among the first passengers in San Francisco to get on a plane headed for Hawaii, where travelers who test negative for the coronavirus will no longer be required to self-quarantine for two weeks.
“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 pre-travel testing program began Thursday and allows visitors who test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of their arrival in the islands to avoid quarantine — a measure that’s been in place for all arriving passengers for most of the year.
Officials had touted the mandatory quarantine rule as an integral part of Hawaii’s early success in keeping the coronavirus at bay. The new testing program is an effort to stem the devastating downturn the pandemic has had on Hawaii’s tourism-based economy.
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 was later informed there was an error with that test.
Margo ultimately paid $250 for a fast-result test Thursday at the airport in San Francisco, which came back negative.
Is Hawaii ready?
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 nonessential businesses.
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 take precautions,” she said, adding that they had already done one quarantine in Hawaii about two months ago.
Reliance on tourism
Hawaii’s economy is almost entirely built around tourism and local families who rely on the sector to survive need to return to work.
More than 100 of Hawaii’s approximately 4,000 restaurants, bakeries and caterers have closed permanently and more than 50% predict they will not survive the coming months, officials have said.
Monica Toguchi Ryan, whose family has owned and operated