Hawaii has officially rebooted its coronavirus travel restrictions — meaning it’s far easier to travel there now.
It’s an attempt to rebound from the pandemic, which together with a mandatory two-week quarantine for out-of-state arrivals has crushed the state’s tourism industry.
Tourism this year was down 69% through August compared to the same period last year. Hawaii saw a record 10.4 million visitors in 2019, but its unemployment rate in September reached 15%, the highest in the nation. Now, with a new testing program, there’s hope for an economic rebound.
Hawaii’s new rules officially began Oct. 15, when the state launched a new program that allows visitors to bypass that quarantine if they test negative for coronavirus within three days of their arrival to the islands.
Early results are promising: On the first day of the new program, 7,000 visitors poured into Hawaii’s airports, compared to 22,000 visitors who arrived during the entire month of August. That is still far from the 30,000 daily arrivals the islands typically receive, but state officials expect an average of 5,000 tourists per day through the end of 2020.
With many international destinations closed to U.S. travelers during the pandemic, a vacation in the world’s most isolated islands offers an enticing alternative — particularly to Californians. The Golden State sends more vacationers to Hawaii than any other state, with 2.6 million residents visiting in 2019 — one of every four travelers to the islands. Reflecting that demand, airlines have focused their own testing programs for passengers on California travelers.
Hawaii has managed the pandemic relatively well. After a spike in infections this summer that led to renewed restrictions on businesses and gatherings, cases have stabilized. Today, Hawaii is among the bottom five of all states in infection and death rates.
The shutdown has come with a heavy toll, however, as one in every three jobs is directly supported by tourism. Restaurants, hotels and tour companies have been crippled.
Despite the promise of easier travel to Hawaii, this month’s new pre-travel testing system has had its hiccups, and travelers should be prepared for varying regulations on different islands, limited attractions and services, and a smaller-than-normal pool of accommodations.
For those who can’t wait for a lei around their neck, toes in the sand and a mai tai in hand, here is what you need to know.
How to skip the 14-day quarantine: Since March 26, all travelers arriving in Hawaii have been required to self-quarantine for 14 days, getting all food delivered and leaving their accommodations only for a medical emergency.
To skip quarantine, all visitors five years of age or older must produce a negative result from an approved coronavirus test provider, while visitors who land without results in hand must quarantine until test results are received. One key: you must be tested prior to departure. Those who fly to Hawaii without a pre-arrival test must quarantine for two full weeks.
With a little planning, perseverance and patience, travelers can dodge the in-room lockdown. The mandatory quarantine program for those who do not get tested prior to arrival is scheduled to last through Nov. 30 and will likely be extended, so navigating the pre-travel testing program will be necessary for anyone who wants to truly enjoy the islands in the coming months.
Island hopping can be tricky: Oahu, home to state’s largest resort area in Waikiki, its most well-known surf breaks and the bulk of the state’s population, has recorded 88% of coronavirus cases. As a result, the mayors of the other islands have implemented an extra layer to the reopening plan.
All out-of-state arrivals to Hawaii Island (known as “the Big Island”) must test negative on a rapid-response antigen test upon landing, in addition to passing through pre-travel testing. Those who fail will be required to immediately take a more sensitive polymerase chain reaction test, and must quarantine until they receive a negative result.
Maui and Kauai don’t require a second test, but are encouraging visitors to participate in free voluntary testing 72 hours after arrival.
If island-hopping is on the agenda, be sure to check the latest policies for each island, as additional testing will be required to travel within the archipelago except entering Oahu.
How to get a test: To qualify for the pre-travel testing program, Hawaii requires an FDA-approved diagnostic test (the nucleic acid amplification test) from a state-approved provider. Antigen tests are not accepted.
All arrivals must visit the state website, Safe Travels Hawaii, to fill out contact information for tracing, answer a health questionnaire and upload test results.
Hawaii’s approved testing partners include Kaiser Permanente, CVS, Walgreens and Carbon Health. (A full list is available at hawaiicovid19.com.)
As of Oct. 20, Oakland International Airport is the only airport certified by Hawaii to provide testing for travelers, but more are expected to be added. Hawaiian, Alaska and United Airlines, which all offer direct flights from San Francisco to Hawaii, are also conducting their own approved testing programs, and Southwest, which flies from Oakland and San Jose, also offers approved testing.
Finding a place to stay: More than half of Hawaii’s hotels temporarily closed during the pandemic, according to the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, but they have been steadily reopening in recent weeks, and many more expect to welcome guests again in November.
Short-term rentals (fewer than 30 days) are allowed to operate on Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island, but are forbidden from taking guests subject to quarantine. All short-term rentals on Oahu are banned under the current emergency order. In addition to mainstays such as Airbnb and VRBO, sites such as HomeToGo.com, HawaiiGaga.com, LoveHawaiiVillas.com and HawaiianBeachRentals.com offer extensive vacation rental listings.
With tourism levels well below normal, there should be plenty of rooms available and discounts galore. So take a test, snag a room and a beach umbrella and start feeling the aloha.
If you do need to quarantine, a number of hotels allow people to do so in rooms, with no-contact food delivery.
For the latest information on approved testing partners and quarantine regulations, visit HawaiiCovid19.com. Additional information is available at the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Tovin Lapan is an Oakland freelance writer . Email: email@example.com