(BIVN) – Plans to carefully reopen Hawaiʻi to tourism were discussed on Monday during a virtual meeting of the Hawaiʻi House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness.
Ray Vara, president and CEO of Hawaii Pacific Health, talked about the State’s readiness in welcoming visitors back to Hawaiʻi starting on October 15th, with the condition that they must test negative for coronavirus 72 hours before arrival in order to bypass the 14-day quarantine.
“There’s still work to be done over the next couple weeks until we open up on October 15th and beyond,” Vara said. “I think we’ve made good progress relative to where we were at a few weeks ago.”
Vara said, as far as the validation of tests for the travel program, “we now have strategic partnership agreements at the State level with CVS, Walgreens, Kaiser, Quest Labs, United Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and there will be one more major airline announced, I think, within the next 24 hours.”
“We should expect to see that those partnerships continue, which will make it easier for potential travelers or returning residents to get the tests they need from a certified lab,” Vara said, who added there’s also discussions happening at the international level.
“Anyone five or older will require a test, which I think was a significant milestone getting that defined, just last week,” Vara reported.
Vara also said progress is being made “in terms of partnerships with DLS and Clinton Laboratories to expand capacity for testing well over 10,000 per day in the near future,” as tourism ramps up.
Vara said everything is “being built into the Safe Travels Hawaii app, or a program that allows it to all be digitally monitored and tracked.”
“October 15th will really represent the turning on the hose, if you will, to see where the leaks are that weren’t visible by the naked eye,” Vara said, “and so obviously there will still be some work to be done.”
Vara said there is now ample contract tracing being coordinated by the State, and officials are also making sure that there is alignment amongst the counties “as it relates to lining up behind the State policies so that we don’t have a different experience for travelers, necessarily, depending on which island they they go to.”
The committee agreed that educating the public on how the increase in tourism could lead to an increase in COVID-19 cases is an important component of the plan.
Vara said noted that Monday’s number of newly reported COVID-19 cases was around 90, and that’s after Oʻahu has been under a lockdown for the last four weeks. “I think we have to prepare people for the fact that our baseline is no longer at zero. If we’re going to have activity around our various communities, we are going to see some level of [COVID] activity, and that we have to be able to expect to live with that.”
During the meeting, Mark Mugiishi, the president and CEO of Hawaii Medical Service Association, said it looks like 100 new cases per day could be the new baseline for Hawaiʻi.