HONOLULU (KHON2) — Expect even more visitors to Hawaii starting July 8 with the state allowing vaccine exceptions for mainland residents.
It’s another big step toward returning to normal. With summer travel already in full swing, Hawaii’s airports are expected to get even busier.
Starting July 8, mainland visitors who are fully vaccinated, meaning at least two weeks after getting their final shot, can use their vaccination card to bypass the pre-travel test and mandatory quarantine.
“Travelers must be able to upload their vaccination records into the state Safe Travels program. They must bring a hard copy of their vaccination record with them on their trip to Hawaii,” said Gov. David Ige.
Those who are able to upload their vaccination record to the Safe Travels site will get a QR code. Ige says the airlines will be checking for that code before departure. He says it should work the same way as what’s already being done now with pre-travel test checks.
“Asking those traveling if they have an exemption if they’ve taken a pre-travel test or now if they are vaccinated whether they’ve been able to upload that information into Safe Travels,” said Ige.
Earlier this month, the governor allowed exceptions for travelers who were vaccinated in Hawaii. He also dropped all inter-island restrictions. The move already brought bigger crowds to Hawaii airports and July 8 will likely bring in even more visitors. A spokesman for Hawaiian Airlines says it will continue to monitor demand and make schedule and frequency adjustments as needed.
Visitors say this takes away the stress of waiting for test results in time before the flight.
“Definitely more appealing if I can just come here and be vaccinated and show my vaccination card or upload a copy of it,” said Nicholas Chapa, visiting from Idaho.
The head of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association says the benefits go beyond the tourism industry.
“Local people benefit from this great move because they get to go back to work, businesses now are going to start to open up more, and thirdly, the major statement is that we indeed are a healthier and safer place than we were two or three months ago,” said HLTA President Mufi Hannemann.
The governor says this also brings us closer to using the vaccine exception for international travel. He’s working with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other favorite destinations.
Also effective on July 8, social gatherings will increase to 25 indoors and 75 outdoors statewide. This includes restaurants, which means they can increase to 75% capacity. The six-foot distance requirement between tables must still be enforced.
The indoor mask mandate will not change. Last month, the governor lifted the outdoor mask mandate ahead of Memorial Day weekend, following the news that Hawaii was among nine states that had given 70% of adult residents at least one shot against COVID-19.
Ige clarified that the statewide vaccination goals will not affect the counties’ COVID-19 policies.
“I know that the mayors will be looking at these targets and adjusting their policies as appropriate, but this change does not directly impact structured events, weddings, which are governed by the proclamations issued by each county,” he said.
That means social gathering sizes may be slightly larger on other islands, especially if case counts are lower there.
Regardless of what the actual vaccinations rates are by July 8, Ige plans to move forward with the ease of restrictions with the confidence that the state will reach the 60% fully vaccinated rate, while daily COVID-19 case counts remain low. It would have to be an exponential rise in cases for the governor to reconsider.
“The mayors and I agreed rather than go by the specific vaccination rates in each individual county, that because of Safe Travels and the need for simple targets and guidelines for gathering size and for maximum group gatherings, we would go by the statewide numbers for vaccination rates, especially as it applies to Tier 5, and then ultimately Tier 6,” Ige said.
While Ige said this is an important milestone to celebrate, he’s still concerned about the spread of variants in the community, especially in groups of people who have not been vaccinated.
“We are seeing that people who are not vaccinated continue to be vulnerable to serious illness and hospitalization and even death,” Ige said.
The governor said almost everyone who has been infected with COVID-19 is unvaccinated. Today there are over 400 sites to get vaccinated across the state.
Ige expects the state to reach 70% within a couple of months and when that does happen, all COVID-19-related emergency restrictions will be dropped, including the Safe Travels program.