Gov. David Ige on Monday expressed cautious optimism that the next several weeks could prove to be a turning point for Hawaii’s fight against COVID-19, even as the number of confirmed cases rises on Maui and Oahu.

In an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight” program, Ige said that a vaccine passport that would allow travelers to skip pre-flight tests and post-flight quarantines could be just four weeks away.

He also said that interisland travel restrictions could be lifted in May, assuming Hawaii’s vaccine rollout goes according to plan and everyone who wants to receive a vaccine can on that date.

But the governor also urged the public to remain vigilant against the coronavirus and to continue wearing masks, practicing social distancing and avoiding large crowds.

“I just want ask everyone to be a little more patient,” Ige said. “We want to give everyone the opportunity to get vaccinated. I think that’s really important for our entire community.”

Silhouette of an airport security personnel as an arriving Hawaiian Airlines flight arrives at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport as transpacific travel is beginning to resume from today during COVID-19 pandemic. Passengers are required to have a COVID-19 test before arriving to Hawaii. October 15, 2020
Gov. David Ige says changes to interisland travel restrictions and the implementation of a vaccine passport program could be just weeks away. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Like many other states, Hawaii has experienced an uptick in the number of confirmed cases with triple digits reported on several days in recent weeks.

But the state also is expanding the eligibility requirements so more people can be vaccinated against COVID-19, raising hopes that an end to the pandemic may be in sight.

The governor anticipated that Hawaii could reach herd immunity, meaning enough people have been inoculated to make the spread of the disease unlikely, by May and June.

Ige also put a timeline on when Hawaii could see a vaccine passport and lifting of interisland travel restrictions, days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance saying that people who are fully vaccinated “can travel safely within the United States.”

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said that guidance gives the state more power to move forward with a passport program. 

Hawaii reopened to travelers late last year with a new program known as Safe Travels, which allows people arriving from out of state to bypass a mandatory 10-day quarantine if they receive a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure.

Ige said Hawaii is participating in a pilot program with two companies, CommonPass and Clear to develop a system allowing vaccinated travelers to bypass restrictions with what is often called a vaccine passport.

Asked how soon that verification system would be in place, Ige said it could take at least four more weeks because the companies need to integrate their systems with the state’s Safe Travels program as well as systems in other states.

“Every state is doing it a little bit differently, and some states are better organized than others,” Ige said. “(CommonPass and Clear) are working with all the states, because they understand how important it is. And they do say it’s a while away, that there are many variables they are working through.”

The state also is working on partnerships with international carriers like Japan Airlines on implementing a passport program for international flights, Ige said.

Ige said he is still in talks with the county mayors regarding lifting interisland travel restrictions, adding that the rising cases on Oahu and Maui are concerning and a final decision would depend on meeting a goal of opening vaccinations to the general public by May 1.

“Until we get to that point where everyone has the opportunity to get vaccinated, and everyone who wants to be vaccinated is vaccinated, I’d just ask everyone to be patient,” Ige said. “It’s really a matter of weeks, and that would make a big difference for everyone involved.”