Mask mandate dropped for outdoor activities — everything you need to know about visiting Hawaii

May 26, 2021

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Since the world turned upside down, planning a vacation to Hawaii has proven to be a challenge. But as CDC guidelines are updated and more people get vaccinated, restrictions are slowly lifting for the Aloha State.

For months, the only way to enter Hawaii was with a mandatory 14-day quarantine. Then, a reopening date with an option to test before travel to avoid the quarantine became a moving target as the islands battled a COVID-19 surge and the U.S. as a whole dealt with a lack of reliable, rapid testing. Hawaii finally introduced a pre-travel testing option in mid-October. By December, the quarantine period in Hawaii for travelers who did not use the pre-arrival testing option was reduced from 14 to 10 days, following the adjusted CDC guidance.

Then, the islands began to introduce their own policies about reopening. Maui, for example, began implementing a second test requirement for arriving travelers (more on that below) on May 4. The Big Island, on the other hand, began to phase out its second test requirement as of April 15.

But we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Beginning May 11, Hawaii began allowing intercounty travelers vaccinated in Hawaii to skip quarantine and testing requirements. And on May 25, Governor David Y. Ige announced that the mask mandate for outdoor activities will be lifted and ocean sports competitions can resume.

Disney’s Aulani Resort. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

There are also reports that Hawaii could soon announce a system for travelers vaccinated outside of the state to travel to and around Hawaii without any quarantine.

It’s a lot of information to keep track of — and it changes often. So, here’s the latest about traveling to the Aloha State right now and what you need to prepare for a successful trip.

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Lifted restrictions for outdoor activities

As of May 24, Our World in Data reports 46.9% of Hawaii residents are fully vaccinated, and the Honolulu newspaper Star-Advertiser reported “42% of Hawaii’s residents are fully vaccinated and 60% of the population has received at least one shot” as of mid-May. Now that the CDC is saying fully vaccinated people can avoid wearing a mask or face covering in most indoor environments, Hawaii is taking cautious steps toward lifting mask requirements in the state — starting with outdoor activities.

Now, Gov. Ige has announced that the mask mandate for all individuals outdoors has been lifted, effective May 25. Additionally, the state will lift the suspension on ocean sports competitions (including surfing, canoeing, swimming and more) starting June 1.

“Mahalo to Governor Ige and his team for working so closely with the mayors on relaxing the emergency rules as we begin to recover from the pandemic,” said Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino. “…As a lifelong fan of youth sports, I am especially excited to see that kids will be back on their surfboards or in outrigger canoes again.”

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

The governor also approved Hololulu’s request to lift canopy restrictions in parks, which will allow tournaments in the city parks for sports such as soccer and softball to resume effective June 1.

Large groups are still encouraged to wear masks even when outdoors, and the indoor mask mandate will remain in effect until further notice.

But as more residents become vaccinated in the coming weeks and months, expect further changes to be announced as Hawaii works toward fully reopening. Gov. Ige expects to make changes to the Safe Travels program in June, and the press release from his office lists the next steps to be providing “quarantine exceptions to transpacific travelers who were vaccinated in Hawai‘i.”

The latest on vaccine passports

Gov. Ige announced on April 20 that travelers who’ve been fully vaccinated in Hawaii can avoid pre-travel testing and/or quarantine when traveling within the state starting May 11.

Under these guidelines, people fully vaccinated in Hawaii can skip testing and quarantine, starting on the 15th day after the completion of their vaccination. Travelers who arrive in Kauai, Maui and Hawaii counties before they are fully vaccinated — or before the 15th day after their vaccination — must quarantine for the full 10 days. Travelers can void this requirement if they meet the criteria for other exceptions (pre-travel testing and CISA).

Travelers vaccinated in Hawaii must:

  • Create an online account and register with the State of Hawaii Safe Travels Hawaii web program.
  • Affirm they are fully vaccinated, and that the uploaded CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card is accurate and authentic.
  • Upload a PDF file or digital image of a properly filled CDC Vaccination Record Card to the Safe Travels Hawaii web program.
  • Travel with a digital image as well as the original CDC Vaccination Record Card in case it’s requested.

The state of Hawaii said that the only documentation it will accept is the CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card or a printout from the Vaccination Administration Management System.

The rollout of a vaccine passport for mainland travelers could be in place by late summer.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said on April 12 he had recommended that fully vaccinated travelers skip testing and quarantine requirements.

Hawaii has reopened to US travelers

(Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)

Hawaii reopened to U.S. travelers on Oct. 15. International travelers from CDC-prohibited countries are still banned from entering Hawaii. However, travelers from Japan have a pre-travel testing option via approved testing providers that went into effect on Nov. 6, 2020. Travelers from Canada are also eligible for this program.

The state’s pre-travel testing program requires all visitors to take a nucleic acid amplification test, such as a PCR test, from an approved testing partner within 72 hours and obtain results before departure to Hawaii. That’s the only way to bypass the state’s mandatory 10-day quarantine.

Additionally, some transpacific travelers participating in the Safe Travels program will be randomly selected to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival. The tests, which are administered by the state, will be given to approximately 25% of the passengers at all three airports at no cost to travelers.

Related: Here’s what it is like to visit a reopened Hawaii

Hawaii, the Big Island

Travelers to the Big Island who participate in the state’s pre-arrival testing program can avoid a mandatory 10-day quarantine.

But, the administration has weened off the second, free rapid antigen test that was required as part of the program. According to the visitors’ bureau, the first phase of moving away from the additional layer of testing began on April 16, and includes people who are exempt with a negative COVID-19 test, and also have a hard copy of the CDC vaccination card.

The memo added that the Safe Travels program will remain in effect for all transpacific travelers.

Kauai

Kauai rejoined the state’s Safe Travels program, which allows travelers who meet the criteria of the statewide program (more on that below) to be exempt from a 10-day quarantine period.

Kauai initially opted out of the state’s pre-travel testing initiative and established its own rules for entry. Travelers could either spend at least 72 hours on another island before traveling to Kauai, where they would have to take a test from one of the island’s testing partners. The other option was participating in the “resort bubble” system, which allowed visitors to take a test before entering the state of Hawaii and then spend at least three days at an approved resort before being able to “test out” of quarantine.

Related: I visited a reopened Kauai in Hawaii — 5 things to know before you go

Gov. Ige did approve added tiers to Kauai’s reopening plans. When 60% or more of Hawaii residents are fully vaccinated, the seven-day average of case counts is less than three, and there is less than a 1% test positivity rate, the island will move into Tier 5, which increases capacity limits for indoor and outdoor activities. And when 70% or more of Hawaii residents are vaccinated, all Kauai-specific mandates would be lifted so that the island would adhere to only the same rules as the rest of the state.

Maui

Travelers to Hawaii already need to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test to enter, but now Maui is adding an additional layer of testing for unvaccinated travelers, who will soon be required to take a second COVID-19 test upon arrival, according to new public health guidelines.

The new testing policy went into effect on May 4. Travelers will not have to pay out-of-pocket costs for the additional COVID-19 testing.

If you’re headed to Maui, you will also be required to participate in mandatory contact tracing by downloading an app on your phone.

Children under the age of 5 who are traveling with a parent or guardian who has tested negative for COVID-19 are exempt from quarantine and post-arrival testing.

Oahu

A second test is not required for travelers to Oahu.

What do I need to do to qualify for pre-arrival testing?

If you decide to travel to Hawaii, you’ll need to register with Hawaii’s Safe Travels system. It would help if you did this at least 72 hours before arrival, as it will speed up your exit from the airport since you’ll be asked to show your registration confirmation page.

Additionally, travelers arriving in Hawaii will have their temperatures checked upon arrival and must fill out a travel and health form. Travelers who don’t have proof of an approved negative test must quarantine for 10 days.

U.S. travelers must complete the following steps before entering Hawaii’s participating islands:

  • All U.S. travelers 18 and older must register through the mandatory Hawaii Safe Travels online program.
  • Within 72 hours of departure time, each traveler 5 or older must undergo an approved COVID-19 test with negative results through Hawaii’s trusted testing and travel partners.
  • The negative test result must be in hand when boarding your final flight leg to Hawaii.
  • 24 hours before departure, complete the health questionnaire on your Safe Travels account.
  • Comply with all social distancing and mask requirements during travel, including in flight.
  • All incoming Hawaii travelers must pass thermal temperature checks and facial-imaging technology upon arrival.
  • Produce the Safe Travels QR code for local officials upon arrival in Hawaii.

What does mandatory quarantine entail?

(Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)

Hawaii’s current mandatory 10-day self-quarantine remains in effect for anyone who does not follow the pre-travel testing requirements. And this isn’t a destination where you can roam freely at your property of choice.

“Hawaii is our home,” said Jeff Helfrick, vice president of airport operations at Hawaiian Airlines. “So it’s important not only that we take care of our island home, but also that we do it right.”

Travelers not cleared via the pre-travel program are not allowed to leave their personal quarantine space, such as a hotel room, unless they seek medical care.

All public spaces, including any on-site resort pool, fitness center or restaurant, are off-limits during this period, which means delivery and room service only. Visitors are also not allowed unless this person is a health care professional specifically checking on your health.

Anyone who intentionally or knowingly breaks quarantine can be convicted of a misdemeanor — and tourists have been arrested for breaking quarantine.

Related: I spent 3 days quarantine with a tracking bracelet in Hawaii — Here’s what you need to know for Kauai

What if I want to travel between the Hawaiian islands?

(Photo by okimo/Getty Images)

Inter-island travel is permitted, and travelers can avoid the 10-day quarantine by following the usual Safe Travels protocol, which includes taking an approved test with 72 hours of arrival.

Those vaccinated in Hawaii can avoid testing and quarantine by following the steps noted above.

Related: Why we love Hawaii

Testing facilities approved by Hawaii

Hawaii has approved the following list of testing partners for the pre-arrival approval program. You may have to pay out of pocket for the voluntary COVID-19 test, so be sure to check with your insurance provider before proceeding.

Airlines and airports offering tests

(Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)

Multiple airlines, including United, Hawaiian, Alaska and American, have developed a testing system available to travelers flying to Hawaii from certain hub airports or via an at-home kit.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines partners with a variety of providers, including Carbon Health and Costco (home saliva-based test). At Carbon, Alaska passengers can be tested from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. PST. Test results will be ready by the next business day (some results within two hours) at a discounted cost of $135 to $170.

More information, including how to schedule an appointment, is available at alaskaair.com/hawaii-bound.

Alaska Airlines passengers bound for Hawaii will no longer have to be checked upon arrival in Hawaii. Instead, those formalities will be done at departure. The gate agent will verify that your Safe Travel profile is updated and give you a wristband that will entitle you to skip airport arrival screening in Hawaii.

Note that your lodging and car rental company may still need to verify the QR code from your Safe Travels profile.

More information about the Hawaii Pre-Clear program can be found here.

American Airlines

If you’re flying on American Airlines from Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) to Honolulu (HNL) or Maui (OGG), you’re eligible to take a $129 at-home nasal PCR test administered by LetsGetChecked, an in-person test at a CareNow urgent care location or a preflight rapid test at DFW administered by CareNow.

More information about testing with American can be found here.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines partners with Worksite Labs to provide drive-through COVID-19 PCR testing in select cities, including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco.

Worksite Labs will offer the Droplet Digital PCR shallow nasal swab test for $90, with results within 36 hours. Passengers on Hawaiian can also order a mail-in PCR saliva test online through Vault Health for $119.

More information about testing with Hawaiian Airlines can be found here.

United Airlines

Travelers flying on United Airlines to Hawaii can arrange for a mail-in PCR COVID-19 test. Travelers will receive results 24 to 48 hours prior to travel, and the cost is $119.

United offers Hawaii-bound passengers rapid testing at San Francisco International with results in 15 to 30 minutes for $250. Another option for those in San Francisco is drive-up testing administered by Color at a testing facility located at the United technical operations facility parking lot. Results are provided within 48 hours for $105.

Those departing Denver (DEN) and Newark (EWR) to Hawaii on United can also do testing at those airports for $200 per person.

More information about testing with United can be found here.

Air Canada and WestJet

As part of the governor’s latest announcement about travelers from Canada being eligible to avoid quarantine if test results are provided before departure, two Canadian airlines have agreed to help facilitate:

Air Canada and WestJet will be identifying testing entities in Canada, with the Hawaii State Department of Health’s approval, for purposes of the pre-testing program. Canadian residents should look to these Canadian-based carriers for the testing options in their country.”

What is the airport testing process like?

Some U.S. airports are also offering COVID-19 testing.

Tampa International (TPA); Bradley International (BDL) near Hartford, Connecticut; New York-Newark (EWR), New York-JFK and others offer on-site testing. Oakland Airport (OAK) in California also offers preflight testing that, unlike most programs, comes with no out-of-pocket cost for travelers heading to Hawaii.

Related: You can now take a COVID-19 test at the Tampa Airport

SFO is offering United’s Hawaii-bound passengers the option to take an approved rapid test at the airport before heading to Hawaii. You should make an appointment and register ahead of time.

Your trip will need to originate from SFO, and the testing site is in the International Terminal in Courtyard A. Allow extra time before your flight as you’ll need to wait for your turn, then 15 minutes or so for results and ultimately head back through security and to your departure gate.

Once registered and checked in:

  • You’ll be given a packaged swab for your test and escorted to a screened-off area for a short virtual visit with a doctor.
  • You’ll be asked whether you have been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 or if you have any symptoms.
  • A health care worker will then administer the test while on the other side of a plexiglass divider.

Then you’ll wait outside for your results. If you test negative, you’ll be good to head back upstairs for your flight. If the test comes back positive, you’ll sit down to talk with the doctor via a virtual visit as they explain the results and answer any questions you may have. Then you’ll need to self-isolate per doctor and CDC recommendations.

Should I book a trip to Hawaii?

There’s no question that Hawaii is a beautiful destination perfect for outdoor exploration. But, as we have already seen, things can change quickly for an island in the middle of the ocean with finite hospital capacity.

TPG had a reporter visit Hawaii, and she documented what it was like to visit a reopened Hawaii.

“Hawaii has spent a lot of time and effort in preparing facilities, hotels, [and] restaurants … and while it probably won’t feel exactly the same, it’ll feel enough the same so that people will continue to love Hawaii and continue to make it a great vacation destination,” said Jeff Helfrick of Hawaiian Airlines.

The state has a limited number of pre-travel testing providers, and some of the providers will not test children under 12, so do your research if you are traveling with children 5 or older who are required to test to avoid quarantine.

Related: Getting a coronavirus test for travel is not always possible

Bottom line

Hundreds of thousands of would-be visitors have delayed or canceled trips to Hawaii during the pandemic.

Now, travelers can enter Hawaii without quarantine as long as they can follow the testing procedures and present eligible negative results before departure. For the time being, the state’s indoor mask mandate remains in effect, but you will be allowed to go maskless while outside. And with ocean sports competitions getting the green light starting June 1, we expect to see announcements for rescheduled surfing competitions and other popular sporting events pop up for this summer.

If your family plans to join the thousands of visitors again entering Hawaii each day without quarantine, be sure to triple-check all documents, deadlines, test requirements and timelines leading up to your trip. It also won’t hurt to familiarize yourself with airline, hotel and other travel cancellation policies if something doesn’t go as planned. While the state does hope to work with third-party verification services in the hopes of offering quarantine exceptions to travelers vaccinated outside of the state of Hawaii, we likely won’t see that come to fruition until later this summer.

Related: 

Additional reporting by Chris Dong, Victoria M. Walker, Katherine Fan, Madison Blancaflor, Clint Henderson, Nick Ellis and Andrea M. Rotondo.

Featured photo of Honolulu by Timur Alexandrov/EyeEm/Getty Images.

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