No surprise here: Hawaii follows Alaska’s lead, asks visitors to pack a negative COVID-19 test

Jun 25, 2020

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Compared to the Lower 48, Alaska and Hawaii have distinct geographies and needs. And while some U.S. states are requiring visitors to enter a 14-day quarantine upon arrival — most recently New Jersey, New York and Connecticut — Hawaii and Alaska remain two of the most locked-down states in the country in relation to travel and tourism.

But now, Hawaii Gov. David Ige says that beginning Aug. 1, travelers with a valid negative COVID-19 test result (taken up to 72 hours before arriving at a Hawaii airport) will not be subject to the 14-day quarantine. You must take an FDA-approved PCR test from a CLIA-certified laboratory before arrival, and no testing will be done at the airport.

Visit TPG’s guide to all coronavirus news and updates

As anticipated, Hawaii’s decision to allow travelers with negative coronavirus test results to skip the mandatory quarantine period closely follows Alaska’s lead.

At a press conference held by Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy earlier this month, it was announced that beginning June 6, a negative COVID-19 test could exempt visitors and returning residents from the mandatory two-week quarantine.

Related: Best ways to get to Alaska using points and miles

Travelers can present proof of a negative COVID-19 test completed within 72 hours before boarding a flight to Alaska. This test must also be the PCR (nasal swab) test. Unlike Hawaii, travelers may be able to have a test done at the airport upon landing (depending on test availability), though there could be some delays, and this is not the primary testing method the governor recommends. Either way, visitors and returning residents are required to complete a health form that will be turned in upon deplaning in Alaska.

For those who need more time to get their COVID-19 test before travel, the state has another option to avoid the full 14-day quarantine. If you get tested within five days of departure and provide negative results, you’ll be asked to take another test upon landing in Alaska. You’ll be required to quarantine until you get the second test results back (usually within 24 to 48 hours), but if they’re negative, you’re free to explore. Children under the age of 2 are exempt from these requirements.

At the time of this announcement, it was easy to speculate that Hawaii might follow Alaska’s lead and introduce an alternative to quarantine for visitors.

Related: State by state guide to coronavirus and travel in the U.S.

Currently, Hawaii is still strongly discouraging leisure visitors and has a mandatory quarantine upon arrival valid at least through July 31. This could potentially be extended.

An obvious barrier to Hawaii simply replicating Alaska’s testing model is that the number of visitors arriving by air is significantly higher.

In 2018, Hawaii had almost 10 million visitor arrivals by air, while Alaska had fewer than 10% of that number arrive by air (notably, more than 1 million additional visitors arrive by cruise ship to Alaska in a normal year).

Gov. David Ige of Hawaii expressed concern around the feasibility of testing visitors as they arrive at Hawaii’s airports because of the scale and workload that would entail, with almost 1 million visitors arriving by air each month during normal times. This explains why testing upon arrival has been ruled out at Hawaiian airports for the time being.

Related: What it’s like to fly in the U.S. right now

But clearly, Hawaii is mirroring Alaska and loosening restrictions. Inter-island travel without quarantine became effective on June 16. At a press conference, the governor also said the state is exploring reduced restrictions for some travel into Hawaii from other locations. This may be limited to visitors from the transpacific region, areas with few coronavirus cases or screening measures similar to those in Hawaii.

Additional reporting by Melanie Lieberman

Featured photo of Lanai’s Hulopoe Beach by AJ Feducia/Hawaii Tourism Authority. 

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