Trans-Pacific Travelers Arrive at Kona Airport

October 15, 2020, 7:05 PM HST (Updated October 15, 2020, 7:05 PM)
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The first trans-Pacific travelers participating in Hawai‘i’s pre-travel coronavirus testing program arrived at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole Thursday afternoon.

Three United flights, one American, two Alaska, and one Delta flight landed in Kona. Hawai‘i County Civil Defense Agency planned for 1,100 people.

The arriving visitors were directed to the airport’s newly constructed TSA checkpoint located between Southwest and Hawaiian Airlines, where they submitted to Hawai‘i County’s mandatory rapid antigen test and awaited results. As of 3 p.m. on Thursday, Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno confirmed no visitors had tested positive for COVID-19.

Chauncey Wong Yuen, Hawai‘i District Manager with Hawai‘i Department of Transportation’s Airport Division, said given the notice, the building constraints, and weather, he thought the process was going about as well as could be expected. His assessment of the new protocol was the airport’s internet needed a boost as it was getting bogged down with visitors attempting to access their pre-travel test results online.

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The wait time for results was between 15 and 20 minutes after providing a sample. Once the passenger was cleared, he or she was stopped one more time. Staff then reviewed the test result and the passenger’ss ID. After that, the passenger was free to pick up his or her baggage and start vacation.

“I think it’ll work,” Wong Yuen said of the process Thursday. “I’m really amazed by these people. They are really patient, so hats off to them.”

As one visitor was cleared to leave the airport, he thanked Wong Yuen.

“I’m really grateful for that,” Wong Yuen said of the gesture. “It tells me they really want to be here.”

Wong Yuen also noted that more staff is needed to help visitors through the process. He was concerned about the new arrivals standing in the heat as they waited to get into the building to take the rapid COVID test.

It has been several months since the state has welcomed mass amounts of visitors after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down nearly all travel and halted the state’s economy. Visitors were excited to finally be here, even if they had to wait a little longer to avoid the 14-day quarantine.

“Oh, hallelujah!,” Elizabeth Lane of Oakland said with relief and excitement on Thursday. “I’ve been waiting for this for months.”

Lane traveled with her husband Tim Bliss. They plan to scuba dive and house hunt.

Lane received her pre-travel negative test result while she waited to be cleared by the county. Bliss, however, had not received his result and was going to quarantine until it came.

“The tests here are great, but getting a test back home is nearly impossible,” Lane explained.

Lane had to drive several hours to get a test done at a CVS pharmacy. When she arrived, she was told the equipment was down.

“Everyone advertises you get a test (the) same day, but there’s no guarantee,” Lane said. She ultimately had her test done by another provider.

Brian Wilson arrived from San Francisco. He said the process has been OK.

“It’s what I expected,” he said. “You have to be patient.”

Wilson thought the county and its partners were doing a good job, adding if travelers have their information together, the waiting goes by quickly.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.

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