Hawaii re-opened to mainland flights with certain restrictions, however, change is coming to secondary COVID-19 testing. If Hawaii residents weren’t revolting before, some will be grabbing pitchforks now.
Third Change to COVID-19 Testing
The islands originally required no special adjustments to visitors. As the coronavirus crisis lagged on, the islands instituted a mandatory 14-day quarantine. The effect on tourism was dramatic but effective as the islands were able to keep very low infection rates. Rapid testing and PCR tests became more widely available and the option to avoid quarantine by producing a negative test result and agreeing to follow protocol was put in place. The airlines even jumped in to help. The quarantine option was never removed.
A third change for the island of Hawaii is in-store. The outgoing mayor has rescinded the mandate to test 100% of all new arrivals in favor of testing 20% throughout the day. The island’s policy was the most stringent in the state and will remain so after the change. Through three weeks of the program, 11 travelers had tested positive through the program.
The state didn’t disclose how many were tested through the period, nor its share of the $75,000/day cost to run the program which it splits with the federal government. The area around the airport for testing had run into difficulties in managing the space.
The 100% testing program averaged nearly $130,000 per case cost.
Many Have Expressed Concern
In a post two weeks ago that resulted in a comment section explosion, residents of the Hawaiian Islands (not to be confused with indigenous Hawaiians or Islanders by ethnicity) expressed their disgust at tourists traveling to the islands during the pandemic. As pointed out in that post, lack of medical resources and geographic isolation is a real and valid concern for the people of Hawaii.
The new mayor is making a bold move and one that he feels is necessary. Following negative tests from mainland arrivals, adding a second test specifically paid for and conducted by federal funds and those of the people of the Big Island of Hawaii following their arrival may be unnecessary. As commenters pointed out last week, tests can be taken many days prior to the negative result arriving 72 hours prior to flying to the islands. One study demonstrates that odds are incredibly rare of contracting on the airplane itself.
The US is experiencing the highest confirmed COVID-19 case count in the last week. It’s certainly possible that a traveler could take a test more than a week before their arrival and become infected. It’s less likely that they will be infected when they land than if no testing had taken place at all, which was still an option if arriving guests commit to a 14-day quarantine. This is exemplified in the very small numbers of positive tests upon arrival, but while the number is larger than zero, it’s difficult to quantify the threat.
An Uncomfortable Choice
As many communities face around the country and around the world, there is a choice to be made that is uncomfortable. That choice is between doing everything possible to keep the virus as low as possible and as many people as safe as possible and re-opening businesses to avoid financial ruin.
Some may say that there are safe ways to re-open with universal masks. Residents of France and Germany may argue that despite best efforts, the countries are again in lockdown with rising cases and growing concern. Sweden had a model of no lockdown, no forced mask policy, and experienced a variety of results, some that supported each side of the argument.
Business owners and employees or, now potentially, former business owners and former employees may argue that mortality has dropped with better protocol, procedures, but without a return to normal life, there may not be much left once the crisis has ended.
Both sides are taking the most dramatic points of the argument to make their case. If the 2020 election has taught us anything, it’s that the sun will still come out the day after the results have been decided and it’s not likely to be as bad as either side suggests.
Every life is invaluable. Current mortality rates portend a 20% chance that one of the 11 arrivals who tested positive once they landed will die as a result of the disease. It also creates a chance to encounter others that may become infected. But historical mortality is unlikely to be representative of the current survival rate and government support may be on the way for financially distressed Americans. Still, the island of Hawaii has a duty both to protect its citizenry and those who visit from peril. But the state also has a duty to protect the economy of the community as well. At its base level, the 20% adjustment seems like a sensible approach.
What do you think? Is the island of Hawaii’s model better at 100% or under the revised 20% model? Should it be in place at all?