When Gov. David Ige delayed the start of Hawaii’s pre-travel testing program for the first time earlier this summer because coronavirus cases were spiking on the mainland and locally, there were 310 active COVID-19 infections in the islands.
Now, as state officials prepare to launch the controversial program on Oct. 15, Hawaii has more than 1,800 known active cases.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Hawaii should have invited travelers back to the islands in July. But he said Hawaii residents weren’t psychologically ready to revive the tourism industry at that time.
Now, Green said, the state is launching the program out of necessity. Hawaii workers are starting to lose their jobs permanently. Their savings are being depleted. Their health benefits are disappearing.
“We are reaching the point of no return,” Green said. “So we actually have to do a good job in preventing the spread and we have to reboot our economy. We don’t really have any choice.”
This is part of a series of articles that analyzes Hawaii’s experience with the coronavirus over the past six months. We’re taking a collective deep breath and exploring what’s transpired in a number of different areas — including leadership, communications and data, schools, hospitals, business and the economy, tourism and even with people themselves.
In three weeks, Hawaii will for the first time allow trans-Pacific arrivals to avoid the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine with proof of a qualifying negative COVID-19 test.
Green said he anticipates Hawaii will see between 8,000 and 10,000 daily trans-Pacific arrivals by the end of 2020, up from an average of several hundred arrivals per day since the onset of the pandemic.
Yet as Oahu emerges from a four-week stay-at-home order that forced thousands of businesses to temporarily close again, some local doctors, researchers and former public officials question how effective one test will be in blocking the virus from entering the islands.
And the experiences of other tourism destinations that have reopened to leisure travel show it’s not so easy to reboot the economy without a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Officials with the Department of Health did not respond to questions about whether they support the pre-travel testing plan.
Dr. Jonathan Dworkin, an infectious diseases doctor who works with The Queen’s Health Systems said the plan doesn’t seem based on “sound epidemiological science” since one test may not catch a cohort of people who could still have the COVID-19 virus.
“A single, pre-travel test is likely to miss a large percentage of infected travelers,” he said.
JoAnn Yukimura, a former Kauai mayor and county council member who has been involved with local COVID-19 research, said she agrees that a one-test plan is risky.
“It’s not going to achieve the goal that those who are advocating the one test plan think it will achieve, because with that many infections coming in, we’re going to be headed for another shutdown, even with the most stellar contact tracing,” Yukimura said. “The way they’re reopening is not safe and it kind of gives me nightmares sometimes.”
But Green said residents shouldn’t be afraid.
“I don’t want people to be afraid. If it becomes dangerous in any way, we’ll reassess.” — Lt. Gov. Josh Green
State leaders are now in sync in their understanding of how to hamper the virus’ spread through testing, contact tracing and isolating people with active infections, as well as their close contacts, he said. And those leading the state’s COVID-19 response have begun to bolster Hawaii’s capacity to conduct testing and contact tracing.
The state’s hospital capacity has been augmented by hiring more than 200 traveling nurses who will work at 10 Hawaii hospitals over the next two months. And a new data dashboard unveiled by the DOH is providing the public with more detailed information about the status of the virus and the prevention methods.
What’s more, Green said thousands of travelers are already coming into Hawaii without a test. The pre-travel testing program, he said, should be viewed not as a foolproof policy but as another layer of protection.
But even officials who support the plan say the state will need to do a better job of communicating with visitors and the public to make Hawaii’s reopening strategy a success.
How Pre-Travel Testing Works
Hawaii’s new pre-travel testing program is still under development, but here’s what we know so far.
Qualifying tests must be nucleic acid amplification tests, also known as NAAT — a molecular test that requires a minimally invasive nasal or throat swab or saliva sample. If test results are not available at a travelers’ time of arrival to Hawaii, that person will have to remain in quarantine until they get their test results. Only after they receive a verified negative test result will they be released from quarantine.
Travelers will be responsible for the cost of their test, which must be taken a maximum of 72-hours before the arrival of their Hawaii-bound flight. The cost of a test ranges between $120 and $140, according to Green. Tests will not be available at the airport.
The state has agreements in place to facilitate the pre-travel testing program on the mainland with CVS and Walgreens, Kaiser Permanente, and a physician and urgent care network in Oregon called AFC.
State leaders predict travelers will make longer trips due to the hassle of pandemic travel. And those who do come, Green predicts, will be conscientious travelers.
Green also said he expects only a small portion of incoming travelers will land in Hawaii airports without first obtaining a qualifying negative test result.
“I don’t want people to be afraid,” Green said. “If it becomes dangerous in any way, we’ll reassess. But I think it’s time. We’ll be as safe as we can be.”
Once travelers arrive, they will have to show proof of their test results and fill out the state’s digital “Safe Travels” form. The form collects health and contact information to assist in public health monitoring.
It’s an added safeguard in a system that includes automated temperature checks and screening for people with symptoms or temperatures of 100.4 degrees or higher.
“A lot of us have real concerns and fears of another surge.” — Daniel Ross, president of the Hawaii Nurses Association
The Safe Travels app will indicate when a traveler has cleared the pre-travel testing program. The traveler can then display that clearance to hotel and restaurant workers or drivers for ride-hailing companies like Uber should they request it.
Green said the state will have a list of travelers who do not qualify to bypass the 14-day quarantine, as well as their lodging location and contact information. He said the state will be able to police quarantined travelers by visiting their hotel rooms to follow up on reports of violations.
Those who must quarantine must do so at their own expense. That includes any traveler who tests positive for COVID-19, as well as their travel partners.
“I think our bigger challenge is that right now, a lot of people are scared to travel in general,” Green said. “And a lot of people are out of work, so they might not have resources to travel.”
Questions Surround One-Test Efficacy
Critics of the plan — many of whom are medical experts — say one test isn’t reassuring: they fear people who caught the virus right before or after traveling en route to Hawaii means they’ll either be most contagious during travel or after they arrive in the islands.
Honolulu emergency physician Dr. Darragh O’Carroll called even the most sensitive tests “practically useless” if conducted during the first couple of days after someone contracts the virus.
Instead, he and other Hawaii medical and research experts have advocated testing travelers at least twice: before and after they arrive to catch any infections that may have been missed by a test taken prior to travel.
“With a two-test strategy, the infections drop dramatically if the test is done on the seventh day,” Yukimura said. “We actually have a plan which is much safer and reduces the quarantine to a seven-day quarantine. It still has infections that come in undetected, but it’s much less.”
Green, however, said the state doesn’t have the capacity to give thousands of travelers a secondary test. Even if it did, Green said he expects that the number of positive cases caught by a secondary screening would be “extraordinarily low.”
While the number of new daily COVID-19 cases appears to have plateaued, hospitals across the state are still overwhelmed. The state has spent $14 million in federal coronavirus relief funding to hire a team of 230 travel nurses and respiratory therapists to help hospitals care for COVID-19 patients for the next two months.
The thought of more cases associated with travel is worrisome, said Daniel Ross, president of the Hawaii Nurses Association.
“Right now there’s a lot of anxiety over the unknown because there are nurses getting sick with COVID, and we don’t know exactly how many because management hasn’t come out with information yet,” he said. “A lot of us have real concerns and fears of another surge.”
A two-test program would provide a little more security, he said, though, “Nothing’s going to be foolproof.”
How Other Destinations Are Bringing Back Tourism
Alaska, another tourism-dependent state, has a comprehensive pre-travel testing program similar to the one Hawaii is on the verge of launching.
In June, Alaska became the first state to allow visitors to avoid quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test.
Travelers whose tests were taken up to five days before their flight landed in Alaska were instructed to take a second test at the airport and minimize their interactions until the results came back. Those who arrived with no pre-test could get a test at the airport for free. And those who did not wish to get tested could opt for a 14-day quarantine.
In the program’s first five weeks, Alaska screened more than 78,000 people at its airports, yielding a total of 134 positive cases, according to Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer.
But by mid-summer, Alaska was experiencing a surge in positive COVID-19 cases. On July 26 the state, which has a population of roughly 731,000, reported a record 231 cases — with 186 Alaskans and 45 nonresidents diagnosed.
So in August the state revamped its pre-testing travel program. It closed the pre-travel testing window from up to five days to a maximum of 72 hours. And it started requiring nonresidents arriving without a pre-test to get tested at the airport for a $250 fee. Residents returning home could get free airport testing or opt for a 14-day quarantine.
The city of Anchorage imposed an even stricter set of rules, requiring travelers to undergo a second round of testing a few days after their arrival in order to be able to eat out at restaurants.
In September, Alaska’s infection rate have receded slightly to an average of about 78 new cases a day. The state has among the lowest COVID-19 death rates in the nation. But triple digit daily case numbers are no longer uncommon.
Things didn’t work out so well for French Polynesia, another tourism-dependent destination that implemented a program similar to Alaska’s.
French Polynesia opened in July to international travelers who could display results from a recent negative COVID-19 test. After four days, travelers to French Polynesia had to take another self-administered test.
Despite the government’s decision to institute a second test, French Polynesia experienced a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases that ultimately gave rise to community spread.
From March to June the country recorded 62 positive COVID-19 infections. Six weeks after the nation reopened its borders to travelers, there were more than 1,200 infections.
Most of the new cases were in urban Tahiti. But infections started popping up on some remote islands that hadn’t previously detected any positive cases.
The government reacted by banning large gatherings, closing down nightclubs and requiring mask-wearing in restaurants. Several schools in Tahiti temporarily shut down. But a surge in coronavirus infections has continued despite these new regulations.
Some public officials say Hawaii needs to move quickly to ramp up its strategy for communicating with visitors and residents to ensure that a pre-travel testing program will go smoothly.
House Speaker Scott Saiki said incoming tourists must know what will be expected of them during their Hawaii vacation.
Will visitors be allowed to gather in groups? Where will mask-wearing be required? Will restaurants be open for indoor dining? Once they clear the pre-travel testing program, will travelers be permitted to fly from one island to another without having to quarantine?
Once the rules are developed, how will the state ensure they are plainly communicated to travelers arriving from different states and countries? And how will they enforce them?
These are details that the state still needs to figure out.
“It’s critical that we keep to the Oct. 15 reopening date,” Saiki said. “We cannot deviate at this point so between now and then we need to make sure that all of our protocols are in place and that everybody understands what those protocols are.”
Today Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced a City-wide reopening strategy based on COVID-19 metrics. The Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation has provided a more detailed graph (attached) reflecting the information within that strategy as it relates to our parks and facilities. Most notably::
Groups of 5 are allowed in parks and beaches beginning Thursday, Sept. 24 and the following park facilities are scheduled to reopen that date:
Off-leash dog parks
Shooting & archery ranges
Outdoor play courts
Pop-up canopies require a permit, cannot be larger than 10’ x 10’, and must be 12’ feet apart. Visit the special website for more info: bit.ly/CanopyPermit
The online camping reservation reopens at 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 25 for camping beginning Friday, Oct. 9. Campsites will be limited to a maximum of 5 people.
City pools are scheduled to reopen on Monday, Sept. 28 for lap swimming only. Previous COVID-19 protocols will be in place.
Support the economic viability of diversified agriculture and aquaculture in Hawaii by providing market sites for local farmers, fishermen, or their representatives to sell their surplus and off-grade produce.
Provide focal point areas for residents to socialize.
An estimated half a million people shop at the 25 market sites each year. Prices are usually lower than retail stores. Many ethnic fruits and vegetables not normally found in the large retail stores are found here. Each market operates once a week and lasts about an hour.
The markets are closely regulated by the POM staff. They conduct weekly price surveys at various stores to determine a recommended price for the POM vendors to follow, supervise the arrival and departure of the POM vendors to ensure safety for both vendor and consumer, and monitor each vendor to ensure that they comply with all City, State and Federal government rules and regulations, ordinances and laws affecting their participation in the POM.
HISTORY OF THE OPEN MARKETS
The beginning of the open markets is attributed to Mrs. Joyce Fasi. After hearing concerns of women in a discussion group regarding the high cost living in Honolulu and in particular the high cost of food, she relayed these thoughts to her husband, then Mayor Frank F. Fasi. The People’s Open Market were thus started to assist farmers with selling their “off-grade”, “ungraded” and surplus produce and at the same time help lower food costs for the citizens of Honolulu. Today, the People’s Open Market has evolved and farmers now bring mainly first grade produce to sell at discounted prices.
The first People’s Open Market (POM) was started at the Banyan Court Mall location in Kalihi in November, 1973. People in other communities began requesting their own POMs. Soon, a caravan of POM farmer/vendors were traveling to various sites to help citizens purchase low cost food items.
The POM staff determines a recommended price that the vendors may sell their produce at (usually 35% below the retail prices). This is done by having the staff do weekly price checks of the retail stores in the city to calculate the POM price. The City also requires all vendors to be authorized to accept food stamps to help those who are on fixed incomes. Vendors may sell below, but not over, the recommended prices.
At the POM, you will find many kinds of ethnic fruits, vegetables and other food items that are not ordinarily available in grocery stores. Depending on the ethnic make-up of the neighborhood, you will find different varieties at different sites.
If you are interested in being a POM vendor, please contact the POM office at (808) 768-9299. There are only a few basic requirements to sign up and best of all, it’s free!
Markets are CLOSED on all City Holidays! Click on the Day of the Week or on the *name of the open market to see more information about the open market and how to get there.
*Currently relocated to the Canoe Hale Parking Lot due to a parking lot reconstruction project* Ala Moana Regional Park 1201 Ala Moana Boulevard 10 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. *City Hall Parking Lot Deck Alapai and Beretania Streets 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
*Waiau District Park Komo Mai Drive 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. *Waipahu District Park (EBT token program) 94-230 Paiwa Street 8:15 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. *Wahiawā District Park (EBT token program) *Temporarily relocated to the upper parking lot near the pool off of Kilani Avenue, until further notice* N.Cane St. and California Ave. 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. *Mililani District Park 94-1150 Lanikūhana Avenue 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m
In multi-cultural Hawaiʻi, you’ll find a variety of foods associated with the different ethnic groups. Fresh ocean and pond fish as well as farmed shrimps and prawns are also available – many sold “live.” In addition, a variety of Hawaiʻi grown flowers, such as ginger, orchids and anthuriums are for sale.
The People’s Open Market (POM) vendors are bound by a set of rules and regulations. These rules and regulations were created to ensure that the POM operates smoothly and fairly for vendors and as well as their customers. It is the vendors’ responsibility to see that their customers follow the rules and regulations. They are subject to citations and displinary action including dismissal from the program for failure to comply with the rules and regulations.Please cooperate with the POM vendors. Here are some of the POM shopping tips: Plan ahead! There will be times that the market will start or end a little earlier or later than officially scheduled (5 – 10 minutes) due to certain conditions — traffic, road conditions, school, weather, etc.
Do NOT bag or ask vendor to reserve items before the start of the market (sound of an air Horn)!
Do NOT cut in lines that vendors have formed!
Do NOT shoplift!
Do NOT squeeze or mistreat fruits and vegetables (papayas, tomatoes, etc.)!
Do NOT bring animals (except seeing eye/working dogs)!
Do NOT litter!
Do NOT ride bicyles through the shopping area. Park on the sides of the POM.
Do NOT park illegally, double park or block driveways!
Park in marked stalls ONLY!
Bring your own shopping bags, packages and cartons!
Be careful when the POM vendors’ trucks and vans are entering or leaving a POM site!
Be considerate of other shoppers!
Bring small bills and coins!
PLEASE KOKUA! MAHALO!
To save on food bills, shop around – compare prices!
For more information, contact: People’s Open Market Supervisor 1527 Keʻeaumoku Street Honolulu, HI 96822 Phone: (808) 768-9299 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
SMALL BUSINESS RELIEF AND RECOVERY FUND: Purpose is to reimburse small businesses for costs incurred from business interruption due to Emergency Proclamations and help small businesses implement safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19
ONE-TIME reimbursement for expenses up to $20,000 to each qualified business that has less than $2,000,000 in gross annual revenue. Businesses that received grants under this program previously can reapply for up to $20,000, less the amount preciously received (i.e., if received only $8,000 previously, can apply for $12,000).
Eligible business types:
a. Businesses registered with the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and sole proprietors
b. Non-profit organizations registered with the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and designated as tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(19)
An eligible business must actually operate in a physical commercial space. Ineligible businesses include home-based businesses, home offices, and businesses with only a post office box or in-car-of address as its business address. An applicant must have a lease dated prior to March 20, 2020 or own the location from which it conducts its operations.
Agricultural businesses are eligible if meeting all qualifications. Eligibility will be determined by assessing Tax Map Key or leas of Tax Map Key associated with location of business operation.
Commercial Fishermen (not Longline Fisherman) can apply for the Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund for a maximum of $2,500 of qualified expenses. See special tab for qualifications and application procedures.
Owner must be Hawaii resident and business must be located in the City and County of Honolulu.
This is a REIMBURSEMENT program; proof of payment required: receipts, cancelled check, or other proof of payment needed (an unpaid invoice is not proof of payment and does not qualify; taxes other than sales tax on purchases are not reimbursable).
Fund will not reimburse payments applied from another Federally-funded CARES Act Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), etc.
The fund can also reimburse expenses incurred to implement physical distancing and other safety precautions to comply with business opening and operating guidelines.
The City and County of Honolulu Office of Economic Development (OED) is partnering with local credit unions who will distribute the funds. Apply to appropriate credit union using last four digits of your GET number. You need not be a member of that credit union and will not be asked to join. Partner Credit Unions:
Aloha Pacific Federal Credit Union – (808) 531-3711
Hawaiian Financial Federal Credit Union – (808) 832-8700
HawaiiUSA Federal Credit Union – (808) 844-8995
Honolulu Federal Credit Union – (808) 777-5646
Questions regarding the Grant or Application Process once submitted should be directed to the servicing Credit Union for your application.
The program is open only for on-line application. Due to COVID-19 safety requirements, participating credit unions cannot handle walk-ins at this time. Please seek help from community organizations or groups if you have problems applying.
For applicants who may need assistance with either language interpretation or computer skills, there are organizations and contacts have offered their services to assist you with the process of applying for the refundable grant and answer your questions. Please contact them directly if you need assistance. If you apply directly to your servicing credit union and they have issues in completing your application, they may ask you to contact these persons as well.
See the list of organization and contacts who can provide assistance here.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Thursday, September 17, 2020 Press Office: 768-5768
PRESS RELEASEMAYOR KIRK CALDWELLOFFICE OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENTCITY AND COUNTY OF HONOLULU
HONOLULU – The City and County of Honolulu will add another $75 million to the Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund (SBRRF) to help local businesses persevere through the difficult COVID-19 crisis. “The SBRRF is our primary tool for helping small businesses stay afloat while we work as a community to beat back COVID-19,” said Mayor Kirk Caldwell. “To better meet the needs of those businesses that are suffering greatly during this pandemic, we are adapting this program with the input of community members. I am grateful to our local partner credit unions for administering this small business program. They have worked together with the City, local businesses, and neighbors in the fight against COVID-19.” Since the launch of the SBRRF in May, it has distributed more than $50 million to over 5,500 small businesses. After the first tranche of $25 million was exhausted, another $25 million was added in mid-June. At that time, the program was expanded to add farmers and the threshold for qualifying businesses was increased to up to $2 million in gross annual income and 50 or fewer employees to make SBRRF available to more local businesses. “Every day, we hear more heartbreaking stories from local businesses struggling to keep their doors open,” said Sherry Menor-McNamara, President & CEO, Chamber of Commerce Hawai‘i. “Today’s expansion of the Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund comes at a critical time—for many, all other options have been exhausted. Whether they are applying for the first time or for additional funding, this grant will help to bridge the gap as we seek to stabilize local businesses and begin economic recovery. Mahalo to Mayor Caldwell for continuing to engage with the business community. The only way we will ensure the survival of Hawai‘i’s business community is by working together.” The city partnered with four local credit unions to review applications and distribute up to $10,000 in reimbursable grants to qualifying businesses. Throughout the program’s life, the applicant pool and prevailing economic conditions have been monitored and changes made accordingly. In early August, a decision was made to allow previous applicants to apply again if they had not qualified for or received the full $10,000 grant. At the same time, 871 small business commercial fishermen were added to the eligible applicant pool. An additional $10 million was added to the program to support these two additions. Level A and Level B for Eligible Small Businesses The program and its impact were reviewed and assessed with inputs from the community, chambers of commerce, and advisory groups. Responding to these inputs, the program now has two levels. Level A will allow businesses that already received a SBRRF grant to reapply for an additional reimbursable grant of up to $20,000. For example, a business that received $8,000 in the first reimbursement is eligible for as much as $12,000 in the second reimbursement. The same limitations will apply: Businesses cannot apply for costs already covered by another federally funded program such as the CARES Act, Paycheck Protection Plan, Economic Injury Disaster Loan, and others. The SBRRF website on OneOahu.org will close for applications today to transition to the new protocol. Businesses with up to $2 million in annual revenue may start applying on Monday, September 21 at noon when the website reopens. Level B expands eligibility to qualified businesses with $2 million to $5 million in annual revenue and increases the maximum reimbursable grant up to $50,000. Businesses can apply for Level B on OneOahu.org starting October 1. For more information on qualifications and application requirements, visit OneOahu.org.