Travelers who have been fully vaccinated in Hawaii will be able to bypass testing and quarantine when going between counties starting May 11, Gov. David Ige announced Tuesday.
“We made the decision to start with an intercounty travel program for those vaccinated in the state of Hawaii, because we are able to verify the information,” Ige said in a news release. “This phased approach will allow us to assess the impacts of the program to our pre-departure document check program screening procedures. Most importantly, we’ll be able to asses any impact to our virus transmission rates and health care facilities.”
A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving their last dose and would be able to travel with the exemption on the 15th day, said Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, director of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said during a news conference Tuesday with Ige, Lt. Gov. Josh Green and the mayors of Maui, Hawaii and Kauai counties.
Since Honolulu County does not require a pre-travel test or 10-day quarantine for interisland travelers, the vaccination exemption will only apply to travel to the Neighbor Islands. Travelers who arrive before they are fully vaccinated will have to observe the mandatory 10-day quarantine unless they qualify for other exceptions, such as pre-travel testing and being an essential worker.
Even with consistently high daily case counts on Oahu and Maui, officials said it was “time to open up a little more.”
“We are getting better at what we are doing, as far as our people are concerned, and I think they feel that it’s time to open up a little more, especially to visit family, friends, who have waited such a long time to see each other and I mean in person,” Mayor Michael Victorino said during a joint news conference with Ige and other Neighbor Island mayors.
Maui County has been averaging 18 new cases a day and a state-high test positivity rate of 2.4 percent over a seven-day rolling average, though average daily cases have been on a downward trend over the past two weeks, according to state Department of Health data.
Once the new program launches on May 11, fully vaccinated travelers will still need to enter information into the Safe Travels online platform to affirm that they are fully vaccinated and that their Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 vaccination record card is not fraudulent, Hara said.
Travelers will need to upload a photo or PDF of their vaccination card or their Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS) printout with their vaccination record. They will then receive a QR code.
Travelers should bring a digital image as well as the original vaccination record card in case they need to show it to airport screeners.
Those who do not have their COVID-19 vaccination record card or VAMS printout must return to their vaccine provider for the CDC card, according to the Governor’s Office. State or territory Department of Health-issued cards will not be accepted.
The Safe Travels platform will begin taking vaccine information the morning of May 7, though it will only be for travel beginning May 11, Hara added.
Initially the system will not validate the vaccination cards, which will be verified manually by screeners, Hara said.
Victorino said that “we expect some challenges” as the vaccination exemption program rolls out and that the Kahului Airport will “beef up” screening staff in the initial weeks of the launch. He asked the public to be patient but added, “I’m confident we will get it down fairly quickly.”
Rules for younger travelers will vary:
• Travelers ages 5 and under may bypass quarantine requirements, provided they are traveling on the same itinerary as a parent or guardian who has met vaccination verification requirements.
• Travelers over 5 years old who are not yet eligible for a vaccine may participate in the pre-travel testing program and meet county testing requirements if seeking an exemption to mandatory quarantine requirements.
• Travelers ages 16 and 17 who are fully vaccinated should follow the vaccination verification requirements for adults.
Both Ige and Green said they would monitor the interisland program first before opening it up to trans-Pacific and international travelers. The Governor’s Office said that vaccine exemption for trans-Pacific travel could start this summer, with exemptions for international travelers following later in the year.
Green said state officials will also look at COVID-19 cases and variants across the U.S. and internationally, and that those issues could also affect Hawaii’s decision to expand the vaccination travel program.
“There are a lot things at play here,” Green said.
But overall, Green said, the state is seeing the “beginning of the end” of the pandemic.
“That’s why good things are happening,” he added.
He said Hawaii could reach herd immunity by getting the majority of the population vaccinated by July 4.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at [email protected]