Update: Hawaii Ends COVID-19 Restrictions on Inter-Island Travel

by Dana George | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on June 15, 2021

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Two young adults enjoying cocktails in a tropical setting.

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As the world re-opens, Hawaii makes it easier for Hawaiians to travel between islands.

Beginning Tuesday, June 15, fully vaccinated Hawaiian residents will face fewer travel restrictions. For one, inter-island travel will reopen. This reopening makes it possible for people to travel from one island to another for work, to see family, or for any other reason.

Incremental improvement

As of this week, 68% of Hawaii's adult population have received at least one dose of vaccination against the COVID-19 virus. In addition, 49% of adults have been fully vaccinated.

For those who can prove their vaccination status, there will be no testing or quarantine requirements. In addition, those fully vaccinated at least two weeks prior to travel can return from the mainland U.S. without being tested or quarantined.

According to Hawaii Governor David Ige, more restrictions will be lifted when 60% of Hawaiians have been fully vaccinated. But, even then, the governor insists that restrictions may be put back in place if cases of COVID-19 begin to rise.

The Safe Travels program

To restrict the number of people traveling around Hawaii or visiting the state, the state government put together the Safe Travels Hawaii program. This program required the following:

  • 10-day mandatory quarantine for travelers without a confirmed negative COVID-19 test, administered within 72 hours of travel to Hawaii.
  • 10-day mandatory self-quarantine for anyone traveling between islands (except those traveling to Oahu from nearby islands).

To save time, travelers are asked to upload their negative COVID-19 test results to the Safe Travels online platform. If they do not upload results, travelers must present a printed copy when asked by an airport screener. The only test accepted by the state is the Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT), and a certified clinical laboratory must conduct it. Because NAAT tests are not available at Hawaiian airports, all testing must be completed before travel to the state.

The delicate balance of reopening

Hawaii was in a unique position as COVID-19 spread across the world. Isolated in the middle of the Pacific, they were better able to prevent the spread of the virus. Hawaii has also been strict about enforcing rules. Between March and July of 2020, nearly 200 people were arrested for breaking quarantine rules. In addition, those who refused to comply with quarantine were fined up to $5,000.

As other states like Texas and Florida pushed to reopen their economies (and experienced considerable spikes in COVID-19), Hawaii chose a different path. They stopped allowing people in. As a result, by March 31, 2020, travel to the islands had dropped by nearly 99% over the same time the previous year.

The good news is this: According to an analysis by the New York Times, Hawaii had the fewest cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people in all of the U.S. Not surprisingly, they also had the least number of deaths per 100,000.

The bad news? The state's economy has been severely damaged. Because Hawaii depends so much on tourism, the unemployment rate hit 23.5% in May 2020, 10% higher than the national rate. Even now, as Hawaiians get back to work, the effect of the pandemic on the leisure and hospitality industry is expected to linger.

In 2019, 10.5 million visitors poured $17 billion into the Hawaiian economy, with $2 billion of that going directly into state government. Without those tourists, everyone -- from local governments to small businesses -- awaits a return to normal. Hopefully, the opening of inter-island travel to those vaccinated will spell the beginning of a new normal, helping Hawaiian businesses get back on their feet.

If you've been tucking money into a savings account during lockdown and dream of an island getaway, it appears that we're inching closer to the day when the state can safely re-open entirely.

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