Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, Hawaii has been one of the strictest states when it comes to testing in order to allow travelers on their islands. Lately, several people have flown to the Aloha State only to find out that they did not take an accepted COVID test and were sent back to the mainland on the next flight out.
If you are planning on heading to Hawaii for a summer vacation, here is how to make sure that you are taking an accepted COVID test:
The launch of the Safe Travels Hawaii program has allowed visitors with a negative coronavirus test result obtained within 72 hours of departure to bypass a 10-day quarantine.
There has been speculation that the pretesting requirement may be lifted for fully vaccinated travelers in the future.
Step 1: Create your Safe Hawaii account
Once you book your trip to Hawaii, you will need to create a Hawaii Safe Travels program account. It takes about 10 minutes to fill out the personal details, which include your phone number, driver’s license or passport ID, flight information, dates you will be in Hawaii, and the address of the place where you will be staying.
Step 2: Get an approved test within the allotted time frame
As your flight to Hawaii approaches, you will need to arrange to get a coronavirus test within 72 hours of your final — not departing — flight. If this confuses you, you’re not alone. Bruce Fisher, owner of the travel agency Hawaii Aloha, created an online calculator to help visitors figure out their testing window.
Once you know when to test, it is critical to get tested at a lab certified by the Hawaii State Department of Health as a trusted testing partner. “That includes Walgreens, Kaiser Permanente, several others,” Fisher says. “There’s also a mailing test that you can get from Vault and also Costco.”
According to the Hawaii COVID-19 response website, travelers must get a Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT), which can be a PCR test — the nasal swab or saliva sample tests that take a few days to process — or qualifying rapid tests.
If you don’t get the right coronavirus test at the right time, get the right coronavirus test at the wrong time, or get the wrong coronavirus test at the right time, you will have to quarantine for 10 days or worst be sent back home without enjoying the islands.
Step 3: Wait for your results
Once you take your coronavirus test, you will need to wait for your results to arrive. Fisher says clients often come to him in a panic because they are unsure if their tests will be processed in time.
“We tell folks to really just try to be patient and not freak out because none of these places will tell you that they can guarantee the results in 72 hours,” Fisher says. “We’re constantly talking people off the cliff.”
After you receive your results, you need to turn them into a PDF and upload them into the Safe Hawaii portal. If you have any issues with this or see and error message, contact the Safe Travels help account.
Step 4: Fill out your health assessment 24 hours before your flight
The Hawaii Safe Travels program will send you an email 24 hours before your flight with a health assessment to fill out. Once you answer the standard health questions, the program will email you a QR code, which you will need to present at the airport to get into Hawaii without quarantining (as long as your negative test result was approved).
Step 5: Print out your test results
Don’t count on technology. You should print out your essential documents just in case something goes wrong when you arrive in Hawaii. Even if your devices are charged and working, there may be technical glitches that could complicate your entry process.
“There are some times when the website tells people they don’t have a valid test when they do,” Fisher says. “We had that yesterday — a couple several times, actually. So I just tell people, ‘Don’t worry … sometimes the technology doesn’t work properly.’”
Have your QR code and test results — with your name and where your test took place — in hard copies.
Step 6: Fly to Hawaii, and show your documentation to airport personnel
Fisher says wait times will depend on how many flights are coming in at once.
If you are connecting to another island, airport attendants will take you to a different line, and you may have to fill out additional paperwork.
Flight attendants may ask you to download the AlohaSafe Alert App.
Travelers from US states, Canada, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are allowed to bypass Hawaii’s mandatory 10-day quarantine on most islands by following these strict pre-travel testing rules.
Hawaii is following CDC guidelines, meaning those who have been in Brazil, China, the European Schengen Area, Iran, Ireland, South Africa, India and the United Kingdom in the past 14 days will be denied entry.
Some restrictions can vary by island. But on May 26, Gov. David Ige announced masks will not be required while outside on a statewide basis. However, mask wearing is highly recommended when in a large group outdoors. And the indoor mask mandate remains unchanged.
Oahu has implemented a four-tier system of restrictions. Oahu is set to remain in Tier 3 through early June, according to a recent announcement from Mayor Rick Blangiardi. (Tier 4 is the least restrictive).
This means social gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed. Groups of 10 people are allowed in restaurants regardless of household or living unit. Groups are also limited to 10 people at beaches.
On Oahu, tournaments, paddling and sailing races, regattas, surf competitions and similar sports competitions were set to be allowed starting June 1.
Maui, Molokai and Lanai — all in Maui County — allow for gatherings of up to 10 people. Beaches and Maui County Parks are open.
On Hawaii Island, outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people are permitted as long as masks are worn and social distancing rules followed. Indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people. Beaches are open.
The island of Kauai has returned to Tier 4 status from Tier 3. The move increases the indoor social gathering limit to 10 while maintaining limits on outdoor groups at 25 people. Restaurants and bars are open but limited to 50% capacity indoors. Pools and beaches are open. When 70% of Kauai’s population achieves full vaccination, it will be at Tier 6, which will allow all operations to be open with no limits.
The Casey Family from the Milwaukee, WI area knows all about these strict COVID rules in Hawaii.
They drove to Chicago, and on January 25, they boarded a Southwest flight to Maui and after thirteen hours of travel with two young kids, they got off the plane to learn they had taken the wrong COVID-19 test.
“We got an antigen test and we didn’t know that that was not acceptable,” said Patrick Casey.
“Upon them seeing our tests at the Maui airport, what they did was actually turn around a piece of paper that said four acceptable and three non-acceptable,” he continued.
“Neither of us work in the healthcare profession and we weren’t sure there were seven different types of tests let alone two different types of tests,” he said.
Katie Casey said while booking their flights online, nothing stood out saying they would need a certain kind of negative COVID-19 test.
Southwest referred them to the State of Hawaii travel website where the couple had to create a safe travel account and fill out a health assessment and upload their negative test results once they got them. They also had to download a contact tracing app on their cell phones.
They were linked to this travel partner website for more information on COVID-19 testing.
“Hawaii had a list of trusted partners you could take tests with,” said Katie.
“Katie and I spent quite a bit of time enrolling in Safe Travel Hawaii,” said Patrick.
Katie found CVS Health listed and the couple got their tests done there.
“You have to take a test within 72 hours of leaving the mainland and we were leaving on a Monday, which means that we would have to get tested on a Friday. We were concerned about the timeline there, so we wanted to do the rapid test,” explained Katie.
“Before you leave for Hawaii you also have to upload your test results to their website,” said Katie.
“They told us that we would either have to quarantine for ten days or we could turnaround and go back to L.A. and get the test there or we could go back home and get a test and for the price of flying four people back and then back to Hawaii when we were only going to be there for a few days didn’t make sense,” explained Katie.
If they didn’t self-quarantine, the family faced a $5,000 fine per person.
The family opted to fly back home and stay home.
Return flights and extra fees and the money they lost on their Airbnb, the Casey family is out about $5,000…. And their COVID tests still say “pending”.