No more quarantine option for visitors, and other changes to Alaska's COVID-19 entry requirements
Over the last few months, a number of states and countries have introduced mandatory COVID-19 testing in advance of travel as an alternative to a 14-day quarantine.
But now, the trend is moving toward a shorter timeframe between testing and travel; the elimination of a quarantine option for leisure travelers; and the introduction of a second mandatory test -- taken after you arrive at your destination.
Along those lines, America's most northern state, Alaska, has new rules when it comes to entering the state during the pandemic.
These entry adjustments are interesting not only because of the obvious implications for travel to Alaska but also because this could serve as a potential model for Hawaii. Hawaii has delayed its reopening to tourism because of a surge of COVID-19 cases in the Aloha State, and has even reimplemented some restrictions for interisland travel.
But the 50th state has said it's actively looking to the 49th state for learnings on testing as it relates to travel. After all, both states share similar geographical advantages and disadvantages when it comes to COVID and travel.
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As of Aug. 11, all nonresidents of Alaska must arrive with a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to departure, or proof of a pending test result from a test taken within 72 hours. This information is to be uploaded into the Alaska Travel Portal. A nonresident no longer has the option to enter into a 14-day quarantine as an alternative to testing. The option for testing within five days of arrival has also been eliminated.
If a nonresident of Alaska arrives without a preentry test, testing on arrival is available for $250 per test. Travelers taking a test upon arrival will be required to quarantine while waiting on test results. Parents take note that testing is not required for children 10 or younger
Returning Alaska residents may still quarantine for two weeks, or they can take the test on arrival at no cost to them.
Related: Best ways to get to Alaska using points and miles
In addition to the pre-travel or on-arrival testing, Alaska is also asking that travelers be tested again after being in Alaska for seven to 14 days. Until that second test is complete, the state is asking new arrivals to be extremely vigilant about limiting their interactions with others and strictly adhering to social distancing mandates.
Related: State by state guide to coronavirus and travel in the U.S.
When looking to how this may eventually play out in Hawaii, 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
If you decide to follow the guidelines and make the trip, here is a look at the best times to visit Alaska, as well as some winter travel ideas if you decide to pack a parka and make a trek to try and enjoy the northern lights in Alaska this fall or winter.
Additional reporting by Melanie Lieberman