Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Trans-Pacific Travel Restrictions, Gathering Limits to be Lifted in July

By Max Dible
June 24, 2021, 2:35 PM HST
* Updated June 24, 3:00 PM
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Governor David Ige.

Hawai´i will rollback more travel and gathering restrictions next month, as coronavirus vaccination rates continue to rise across all islands.

Effective July 8, 2021, any domestic travelers flying to Hawai´i will be able to bypass quarantine and pre-travel testing requirements if they can prove they have been fully vaccinated. A previous update to the state’s Safe Travels Program allowed such exemptions only for returning residents who were vaccinated in Hawai´i, based on verification concerns.

The date of the policy change is based on a projection from the Hawai´i Department of Health that the inoculation rate among residents will have reached, or surpassed, 60% statewide approximately two weeks from today.

“We wanted to set a date (for) certain so that people could count on it,” Governor David Ige told media at a press conference Thursday, June 24. “Regardless of what the actual vaccination rates are on July 8, we are moving forward.”

To be eligible for the quarantine and testing exemptions, trans-Pacific travelers must upload valid vaccination records to the Safe Travels Program and also bring a hard copy of those records with them on their trip to Hawai´i. Anyone arriving in the islands prior to July 8 will not be eligible for this option.

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Airlines will pre-screen travelers upon departure to ensure they are aware of the new exemption and have applied for it correctly, as well as to inquire about their vaccination status and pre-travel testing status, should the latter prove necessary.

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Coinciding with the rollback of trans-Pacific travel restrictions is a statewide increase in gathering sizes and acceptable restaurant capacity.

Indoor gathering limits will increase from 10 to 25 individuals, while outdoor limits will stretch from 25 to 75 people. Restaurant capacity will increase from 50% to 75%.

The relaxed regulations on the food industry lose some of their potency as long as social distancing requirements remain. Restaurant owners have noted that until social distancing regulations are relaxed, limited floor space makes increasing capacity difficult to unfeasible.

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The governor noted that face-covering mandates remain in place indoors across all counties, though, masks are not required when interacting with others outdoors.

Once Hawai´i reaches a vaccination rate of 70%, the Safe Travels Program will end and everyone will be allowed to travel freely to and throughout the state regardless of point of origin or vaccination status. It is unclear whether mask mandates involving indoor gatherings would also be abolished at that time, or if businesses could still require customers to wear face-coverings even if the state gets rid of the official rule.

With vaccination rates slowing down across Hawai´i over the last several weeks, the timing of when the state might reach a 70% inoculation rate remains uncertain. The possibility exists that it may not happen at all.

According to the DOH, just 57% of Hawai´i has been fully vaccinated as of Thursday, meaning they have received their full dosage schedule and two weeks has passed since their second shot. A little more than 62% of the population has received at least one dose.

Ige said he believes it will be at least two months before the final benchmark is eclipsed, based on the current pace of inoculations. The state continues measuring community participation in vaccination programs and developing targeted strategies to incentivize and simplify the process in places where rates are uncommonly low.

The governor has indicated in the past his willingness to rollback all restrictions in Hawai´i before hitting a 70% inoculation rate, so long as the rates of new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations remain manageable. The number of daily coronavirus cases statewide has been trending downward for weeks and is currently hovering at a little more than 40 new infections identified daily (two-week average).

The DOH Labs Division reported earlier this week that the more transmissible Delta variant, considered by health experts as a “variant of concern” due to its more severe symptoms that result in higher hospitalization rates, is circulating in Hawai´i. Originating in India, the Delta variant is now responsible for 10% of active COVID-19 cases in the US and is projected to develop into the dominant strain in coming weeks and months.

However, new cases of the COVID-19 across all Hawaiian Islands, regardless of strain, are mostly impacting only those who remain unvaccinated.

“There are very few cases … among those who have been fully vaccinated,” Ige said.

As vaccination rates continue to rise, the governor said he and the county mayors believe infections will continue to trend down, even with the presence of more aggressive variants.

Ige added that it would require a “sustained spike” and/or “an exponential increase in the number of cases” before he would consider reversing any of the regulation rollbacks he announced on Thursday, or at any point previous.

Max Dible
Max Dible is the News Director for both Big Island Now and Kauai Now. He also serves as News Director for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations.
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