Kauai requests to temporarily opt-out of pre-travel testing program as cases continue to rise

Coronavirus

LIHUE, Hawaii (KHON2) — Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami is urging Gov. Ige to approve an emergency ruling which would allow the county to temporarily pause Kauai’s participation in the state’s pre-travel testing program. If approved, incoming travelers to Kauai would be required to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

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Mayor Kawakami says the decision comes after a recent spike in cases on the island, some of which have been community spread, according to Kauai’s District Health Office.

“We are facing alarming COVID-19 numbers on our island as well as across the nation,” said Mayor Kawakami. “This is not just a tourist problem. Nearly half of our recent travel cases are Kauai residents who returned home. We know that a single, pre-travel test has not stopped the virus from reaching our island and we are saddened to report our first on-island death. We must take action to prevent the further spread of disease here.”

Mayor Kawakami added that a temporary opt-out option would allow the island to remain in the county’s fourth tier for as long as possible.

“Opting out of the Safe Travels program would be independent of our tier system, which means we could stay in Tier 4 for a longer period of time,” said Mayor Kawakami. “It makes no logical sense for us to move tiers while still allowing more travelers. We shouldn’t penalize our local people by restricting activities, such as youth sports, when that’s not the current source of infection.”

Kauai County detected 58 cases since the start of the state’s safe travels program on Oct. 15. Kawakami said 48 of those cases are travel-related that include visitors and returning residents. He said 30 of those cases were from people who traveled with negative results but later tested positive for the virus.

Kauai’s District Health Officer Dr. Janet Berreman said negative test results are not always reliable.

“That test may not pick up the infection if I was exposed in the one or two days beforehand, because it hasn’t been long enough,” Berreman said. “And it also can’t pick up if I’m exposed in the three days between then and when I get on a plane and travel.”  

Berreman said there is no reason to believe that this is not happening in other counties, but on Kauai the data is clear. Coronavirus community transmission was very low on the island with zero cases on multiple days but cases went up once travel resumed.

“Since we made this major policy change, we are now seeing a rapid increase,” Berreman said. “And we know that when this disease takes hold in a community. It doesn’t tend to just chug along at a low steady rate. It tends to take off exponentially. “

Kawakami said based on Kauai’s population and limited resources, they need to go back to a two-week quarantine for all incoming travel.

“I can tell you when you have nine ICU beds, and on a normal day, many times over half are filled with just regular people, nothing COVID related,” Kawakami said. “If I started having visitors that need access to ICU beds, and residents, where does that leave my people?”  

A spokesperson for Governor Ige said the request will have to be reviewed and approved by the attorney general’s office, General Hara and others before the governor makes a decision.

If approved, the emergency rule would take effect on Dec. 1 at which point all incoming travelers, including residents and visitors from the mainland and neighboring counties would be subject to a 14-day mandatory quarantine, regardless of testing.

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