Over 1,000 Trans-Pacific Travelers Post-Tested for COVID at Kona, Hilo Airports

October 16, 2020, 5:55 PM HST (Updated October 16, 2020, 5:55 PM)
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The number of trans-Pacific travelers arriving in Hawai‘i on Thursday as part of the state’s pre-travel coronavirus testing program was more than officials anticipated.

“Everybody in the state was flooded with people who were coming in,” said Harry Kim Friday. “We suffered the consequences of that.”

Nearly 1,000 trans-Pacific travelers arrived at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport on Thursday as part of the state’s Safe Travels Hawai‘i program. Approximately 120 people arrived in Hilo International Airport.

Hawai‘i County requires a post COVID test upon arrival at all Big Island airports as another layer of protection to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. All trans-Pacific travelers were administered a rapid antigen test. If anyone tested positive, they were given a PCR test.

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Only one traveler, who arrived in Kona on Thursday afternoon, tested positive with the rapid antigen test. Per protocol, that individual will be required to quarantine until his or her PCR results are returned.

Courtesy of Hawai’i Tourism Authority

While crowds moved fairly smoothly through Hilo Airport, new arrivals to Kona piled up as airline arrivals were nearly back-to-back. Kim said the last two flights came in 15 minutes apart at around 9 p.m.

Kim explained there was a bottleneck with the registration process in the the Safe Travels Hawai‘i program. About 100 people were sitting in the new TSA location at the airport awaiting results of their antigen tests.

“They were waiting in a crowded situation,” Kim said. “They couldn’t practice social distancing and it was just a bad situation, to tell you the truth.”

Ultimately, a decision was made to allow those waiting for results to leave. If anyone tested positive, Kim said, the county would go to the visitor and conduct the PCR test. Luckily, the mayor added, no one in that evening group tested positive for the virus.

“We are apologetic of what happened,” Kim said. “We should’ve been more prepared.”

Premier Medical Group is assisting with the testing at the airports. Kim has requested that more staff be brought in to handle the lines.

Thursday was the first time in several months that trans-Pacific travelers were welcomed back to the state in mass after the COVID-19 pandemic halted nearly all travel to the islands in March and crippled Hawai‘i’s economy. According to Hawai‘i Tourism Authority on Friday, a total of 8,219 people arrived in Hawai‘i from out of state after the Safe Travels Hawai‘i program launched. The program gives travelers an option of taking a COVID-19 test, and if given a negative result, allows them to bypass the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine.

The bulk of the passengers, or 3,189 people, indicated they came to Hawai‘i for vacation. There were also 1,287 people who indicated they were returning residents. The trans-pacific passenger arrival data is derived from data provided by Safe Travels.

 

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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