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House committee: No changes needed to Safe Travels program

Despite updated federal COVID recommendations, state officials do not believe the Safe Travels Hawaii program requires significant changes.

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated COVID-19 quarantine guidelines, which allow for people who were potentially exposed to the virus — travelers, for example — to end quarantine after seven days, if a test taken on or after the fifth day provides negative results.

However, those new recommendations are unlikely to change the state’s current travel policy, with members of the House Select Committee on COVID-19 agreeing during a Monday meeting that the Safe Travels program is working well as is.

Incoming Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth, who was sworn in Monday, said he has firsthand experience with Safe Travels’ effectiveness. He said his son recently tested positive for COVID-19 while attempting to travel to Hawaii.

“I doubt he would have tested if he didn’t have to because of Safe Travels,” Roth said.

Mark Mugiishi, president and CEO of the Hawaii Medical Service Association, said he does not believe that requiring arriving visitors to the state to quarantine for a week regardless of pre-flight test results would be a good idea, and House Speaker Scott Saiki pointed out that a mandatory weeklong quarantine for visitors would just cause travelers to choose to travel elsewhere.

That said, travel to the state has already taken a downturn. Carl Bonham, executive director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, said that, while visitor numbers had spiked in November — for example, Lihue Airport averaged approximately 600 travelers per day, Bonham said — that number has dropped precipitously since Thanksgiving.

Lihue Airport is now averaging about 24 visitors per day, Bonham said.

Bonham said he attributes the decline in visitors to confusion regarding the state’s travel policies.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, Gov. David Ige announced that travelers who arrive in Hawaii without a negative test result for any reason will have to quarantine for 14 days, which Bonham said is scaring off travelers who are unsure of whether they can obtain test results before their flights.

In addition, he added, the different policies among the islands is causing additional confusion among travelers.

“I think we’ve got to be a state in this respect, if we’re going to give folks confidence,” said committee member Na‘alehu Anthony.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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