HONOLULU – About 8,000 people landed in Hawaii on the first day of a pre-travel testing program that allowed travelers to come to the islands without quarantining for two weeks if they could produce a negative coronavirus test.
Angela Margos was among the first passengers in San Francisco to get on a plane to Hawaii on Thursday morning.
“Vacation, peace of mind,” said Margos, a nurse from San Carlos, California, of why she's flying to Hawaii. “I need time to relax, unwind.”
The new testing program is an effort to stem the devastating downturn the pandemic has had on Hawaii's tourism-based economy. Officials had touted the mandatory quarantine rule as an integral part of Hawaii's early success in keeping the coronavirus at bay.
But gaps in the pre-travel testing program coupled with increasing cases of COVID-19 across the U.S. have raised questions about whether Hawaii is ready to safely welcome back vacationers.
And when local restrictions were eased before summertime holidays, community spread of the disease spiked to alarming levels, forcing a second round of stay-at-home orders for residents and closures for non-essential businesses.
Margos ran into hiccups with getting her test. She first did it at the hospital where she works, only to find out it wasn't an approved site for United Airlines and the state of Hawaii. She then paid $105 for a drive-thru test, but she was later informed there was an error with that test.
So Margos paid $250 for a fast-result test Thursday at the airport in San Francisco, which came back negative.
Opponents of the testing program have said a single test 72 hours before arrival – especially when coupled with the option to fly without a test and still quarantine – is not enough to keep island residents safe.
Hawaii's economy is almost entirely built around tourism. More than 100 of Hawaii's roughly 4,000 restaurants, bakeries and caterers have closed permanently and over half predict they will not survive the coming months, officials have said.