Ige denies Kauai’s second test pilot program for travelers

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — On Monday morning, Governor David Ige denied Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami’s Emergency Rule 18, which would have established a post-arrival testing program for all incoming travelers to Kauai.

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“Our proposed pilot was intended to augment the state’s pre-travel testing program,” Mayor Kawakami said in a statement.

“Our county administration has been clear that a single pre-arrival testing program alone does not provide the needed level of protection for our Kaua‘i community. However, our proposed second-test program has formally been denied.  

“While this news is disappointing, we have said since day one that we must be flexible and ready to adapt to our ever-changing environment in order to keep our community safe. Today is no different. 

“We will keep moving forward and utilize our resources to help protect our residents. We have already secured 15,000 rapid tests. We are now developing a plan on how we can still utilize these tests to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on our island in light of the Governor and Lt. Governor’s pre-travel testing program which will commence on Oct. 15.” 

MAYOR DEREK S.K. KAWAKAMI

County mayors have said they are not convinced a one pre-test program will provide enough protection from travelers bringing in COVID-19.

“Our guidance has always been that there is an inherent risk to let somebody take a test 72 hours before they travel, because a lot can happen,” Mayor Kawakami told KHON2 by phone on Monday afternoon.

Both Mayor Kawakami and Maui Mayor Michael Victorino were hoping to test travelers after arrival and would quarantine travelers for three days or have them stay in a resort bubble, before taking a rapid test.  

“It was always intended to be a pilot [program],” Kawakami said. “It was always intended to be complimentary to the state’s pre travel testing program. It was never designed to be a standalone. Frankly, there was a lot of misinformation given.”

Kawakami said the misinformation came from state leaders.

Many county health officials are in disagreement with the one-test program.

“It’s hard to understand at this point, the thought process that would lead to that decision, given all of the scientific evidence out there saying that it’s too dangerous,” said Dr. Kapono Chong-Hanssen, Kauai Community Health Medical Director, once he learned that Ige had denied Kawakami’s request.

 “All the examples out there were plans such as Alaska, Tahiti who had plans that were similar to ours and they failed miserably,” he said.

“It’s just really disappointing. I hope it’s not the final decision. But it just sounds way too risky. And I’m worried about the consequences that are going to come from this decision,” Dr. Chong-Hanssen said.

He said the state’s prevalence numbers that they are providing are “optimistic, under-estimating what the reality will be,” he said.

According to Dr. Chong-Hanssen, the national prevalence is around .75% and believes with 1,000 visitors entering Kauai per day, about two would slip through infected.

“Then over the month, 72 people that we did not detect can be in our community spreading COVID-19, and it’s just a huge number, much more than our island has ever handled thus far,” he explained.

He said it will be difficult to handle that amount of cases and because the pre-test is optional it will be hard to manage without technology tools for quarantine.

“I also haven’t heard concrete plans for how to monitor hospitality workers, which we think is another key component,” he continued. “If we’re going to be expecting this many travelers arriving with the ability to spread the infection, and those are the people at risk.”

Dr. Chong-Hanssen was pushing for a six-day quarantine for anyone traveling into Kauai.

“I think most experts would say if you’re going to do a second test, you really want to be doing that more in the 5,6,7-day window and the virus is known to replicate more rapidly,” he explained.

 Kauai currently has two active cases and no COVID-19hospitalizations.

On Monday, Dr. Chong-Hanssen said Veterans Memorial Hospital was at 50% capacity, and Wilcox Hospital was at 83% capacity. Kauai has a total of 11 ICU beds, which 50% are currently in use.

“It still looks like maybe two months, we’re going to have a problem on our hands,” he said. “This plan looks like that kind of plan where we’re going to pay the price in the same way that we underestimated the virus with our contact tracing, and we learned how badly we did. I’m concerned that this testing plan is going to be round two, but the testing version.”

Dr. Chong-Hanssen said the state should have been testing out a pre-travel testing program or Lt. Governor Green’s recommended strategic surveillance the past several months to see how many infected people have slipped through the one test.

Mayor Kawakami said there is still no plan in place that would differentiate who is flying to Kauai from the mainland or from another island.

Kauai County has had the lowest rate of infection in the state and has implemented strict quarantine enforcement, even color-coding rental cars for people who are supposed to be under quarantine, or travelers who are there for essential business.

Lt. Gov Green has said county mayors don’t want to re-start the economy and are promoting fear by seeking additional tests and quarantines.

“The mayors have no plan but are proposing a second or third test and that means no one will come,” Green said. “If they want to come up with a plan that doesn’t want to restart the economy, that’s their prerogative.”

“If they want to take that position, that’s fine. Have that argument for real, say that you’re not ready or you’re too scared to have people come to Hawaii. That is reasonable to debate,” Green continued.

Kawakami responded by saying, “I think it’s unbecoming of a lieutenant governor to say that about mayor’s that have been working hard.”

“I think it’s hurtful. It does nothing constructive. And quite frankly, I’m personally offended. This has nothing to do about fear. This has everything to do with being cautious and by guiding people in the right direction,” Kawakami said.

Green has said the state only has 4,000 daily tests to administer, and it should be used for testing first responders, teachers, and for any potential outbreak at a school or health care facility.

Kawakami said he’s agreed that testing should be preserved for local people.

“That’s why we worked hard to secure 15,000 tests outside of the state’s supply chain, to keep local people safe, to keep visitors safe to keep hotel workers safe. And to keep the county’s numbers low, which we’ve been very successful up to this point,” Kawakami said.

Lt. Gov Green said he’s recommended a second test via a strategic surveillance program in which 10 percent of all people traveling to Hawaii would be tested.

“Ten percent is manageable. We do it with good science and procedures to see if people are testing positive. If that’s the case we know to adjust. It’s not going to be the case because less than one of a thousand are still going to be positive. All I can do is make proposals as Lt. Governor and to keep us closed and propose a second test, it’s fear and we should not operate as fear based on science,” Green said.

Mayor Victorino said he spoke to Governor Ige Monday afternoon.

“Although he’s denied the second test, he is still in favor of other alternatives,” Victorino said in a press conference Monday afternoon.

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