COVID-19 Senate Committee urges Ige to adjust Safe Travels Program

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Senate Committee on COVID-19 sent a letter to Governor David Ige on Thursday, Dec. 3, urging him to adjust the state’s Safe Travels Program. The changes would require a second test three to four days after arrival, as well as a quarantine period.

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The committee said they have supported re-opening the state safely, but have concerns about the pre-testing program.

In the letter to Gov. Ige, they said they accepted the one-test program after being assured by officials it would not result in rapid increases in infections. The letter stated, ‘However, from what we’ve seen in Kauai County, this has not been the case.’

The committee said a second test three to four days after arrival — paired with a minimum 7-day quarantine — is the most effective means of identifying the COVID-19 virus in travelers and preventing spread based on research provided to them.

The CDC updated its guidance on travel on Dec. 2, recommending all travelers get a test one to three days before their flight and that travelers get tested three to five days after they travel. The CDC also recommends staying home for seven days after travel even if you tested negative for the virus. If a traveler does not get tested, the CDC recommends the traveler stay home for 10 days after flying.

On Dec. 4, the committee asked why a second test has not been implemented yet.

“To date we’ve had CDC recommend two tests, medical professionals from across the state recommend two tests, you the Department of Health said two tests is best, and the Lieutenant Governor is now saying two tests. Why can’t we agree or recognize the two-test framework is necessary and make it happen?” Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole asked DOH Director Dr. Libby Char.

“It’s a policy call for leadership,” Dr. Char said. “The Department of Health can make recommendations, but it’s a policy call.”

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, who is the Chair for the Senate Committee on COVID-19, asked a similar question.

“Why aren’t we following guidance from the Department of Health? That’s why we have a department,” he said.

Dr. Libby Char responded by saying “we’ve been public about it, we’ve always held and supported two tests for the travelers coming in, it’s a policy call ultimately and our point of view we’re representing is the public health standpoint.”

Dr. Char and Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said an antigen test on arrival would suffice as a second test instead of the gold standard PCR test. Both women said they would recommend the PCR test for the pre-travel test because it has a higher sensitivity rate.

Lt. Gov. Dr. Josh Green said it has been an overall consensus that there are not enough tests for everyone coming into the state and requiring a one-week quarantine would be another blow to Hawaii’s economy.

“That would effectively shut down travel to the state of Hawaii,” he said. “The Safe Travels Program has worked; we’re seeing fewer cases now than we did when we started on October 15. Our hospital numbers are cut in half and we’ve restored 29,000 jobs. So, I don’t really see any reason to reverse that success.”

The committee asked Governor Ige to respond to their request by December 7, 2020.

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