Kauai asks to rejoin Hawaii Safe Travels program in April

Kauai Mayor Derek S. K. Kawakami is seeking to rejoin the state Safe Travels Hawaii program, which would make it unnecessary for Kauai’s out-of-state visitors to stay in a resort bubble or spend time on another Hawaiian island to qualify for a quarantine exemption.

If Gov. David Ige approves Kawakami’s proposed Emergency Rule 25, trans-Pacific travelers who successfully participate in state’s Safe Travels pre-travel testing program could begin exempting the island’s 10-day quarantine on April 5.

“Kaua‘i remains one of the safest places in the United States throughout the pandemic, thanks to the efforts of our community-minded residents and health-focused travel restrictions,” Kawakami said in a statement. “Over the past few months our community’s efforts have allowed us this opportunity to safely rejoin the state’s Safe Travels program.”

Kawakami said more than 24,000 doses of vaccine have been administered on Kauai, and by April he’s confident that employees in the hospitality and food service industries will be offered vaccines.

“Case counts across the state and on the mainland are stabilizing. Our local hospitals are working closely together and have surge plans in place for additional ICU capacity, if needed,” he said. “They have also obtained more equipment and have COVID testing and treatment options available to respond to any increase in COVID-19 cases.”

Kawakami’s request comes as Hawaii lawmakers are considering a measure requiring that the Hawaii Safe Travels program be made consistent statewide. House Bill 1286 says, that Ige’s decision to allow a county to opt out of the safe travels program entirely “has ultimately resulted in a patchwork of requirements across all counties that are difficult to navigate for visitors and residents alike and, as such, is compounding the economic impact of the pandemic on the state.”

The request also marks the first glimmer of hope for many tourism-dependent businesses on Kauai.

Travel to Kauai plummeted after Kawakami opted out of the Safe Travels program, effective Dec. 2, requiring all travelers to Kauai to undergo a mandatory 10-day quarantine with no option to test out.

Starting Jan. 5, Kauai ended the monthlong tourism shutdown by allowing interisland passengers to participate in Hawaii Safe Travels and introducing its own trans-Pacific entry program. But those changes did little to recover Kauai tourism, which has lagged the rest of the state due to its stricter travel requirements.

In January, the year-over-year drop in visitor arrivals on the rest of the islands ranged 72% on Maui to 79% on Hawaii island to nearly 85% on Oahu to almost 97% on Kauai.

In January, visitor spending on Kauai was $10.2 million, a drop of nearly 95% from the same month in 2020. Total visitor days also were down almost 90% compared to January 2020. There were 3,987 visitors on Kauai in January compared to 113,847 visitors a year ago.

Currently, trans-Pacific travelers may avoid quarantine on Kauai if they first go to another Hawaii island using the Hawaii Safe Travels pre-arrival testing program and spend at least 72 hours on that island before traveling to Kauai. But before entering Kauai they would still need to take a test from one of the state’s trusted interisland travel partners.

A second option to avoid the 10-day quarantine on Kauai is for visitors to stay in “resort bubbles.” In this case the visitors must have a negative COVID test before arriving on Kauai. That test doesn’t have to come from the list of trusted testing partners put out by the state. After they arrive, they must go directly to a designated resort bubble for at least three days.

If Ige approves Kawakami’s request, starting April 5, out-of-state travelers to Kauai would take a pre-travel test from one of the state’s trusted testing and travel partners within 72 hours of departing to Kauai. A list of trusted partners is available here.

They must also create a Safe Travels account and complete the mandatory State of Hawaii Travel and Health Form. The negative test will only be accepted if they upload negative test results to their Safe Travels account before their final leg of travel to Hawaii.

Get more information about the State of Hawaii Safe Travels program requirements here.

While Kauai’s travel policies have been the strictest in the state, local residents have enjoyed more freedom. Since May of 2020, Kauai businesses of many types, as well as many sports and social activities, have been allowed to operate and remain open as long as they followed containment guidelines.

“It has been one year since the pandemic reached Hawaii and we thank the people of Kauai for their sacrifices which have allowed us to remain safe, healthy, and open,” Dr. Janet Berreman, Kauai district health officer, said in a statement. “With the distribution of vaccine to high-risk groups and the improving situation on the mainland, the Kauai District Health Office supports opening trans-Pacific travel with a single pre-travel test at this time. We continue to monitor new developments, particularly the transmission of new variants, and we emphasize the need for everyone to continue to practice mask wearing, physical distancing and other safety precautions.”

Recognizing that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to advise travelers to take a pre- and post-travel test, the County of Kauai and Kauai District Health Office are offering free COVID-19 testing at the Kaua‘i War Memorial Convention Hall weekdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Recent travelers and employees in high-risk industries are encouraged to utilize this free testing program.

“While post-travel tests will not be mandatory, we are grateful to our visitor industry partners for going above and beyond to keep our community safe by encouraging their guests to take a test after arrival,” added Mayor Kawakami. “We have a number of Kauai properties already committed and we expect more to come online in the coming weeks.”

The following Kauai hotels have agreed to make post-travel testing available to their guests at varying costs:

>> Kaua‘i Marriott Resort & Beach Club

>> Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i Resort & Spa

>> The Cliffs at Princeville

>> The Club at Kukui‘ula

>> Timbers Kaua‘i at Hoku‘ala

>> Sheraton Kaua‘i at Coconut Beach

>> The Point at Po‘ipū

>> Hanalei Colony Resort

>> Koloa Landing Resort

>> Suite Paradise

For more information on COVID-19 on Kauai and the travel rules, please visit kauai.gov/COVID-19.

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