What it’s like to visit Maui with eased COVID-19 restrictions
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When you think of traveling to Hawaii, stress isn’t the word that usually comes to mind.
As destinations reopen, getting back into the habit of travel involves several things to do to ensure a smooth and less-stressful trip in COVID-19 world.
This week, I traveled to Maui, Hawaii, where I’m working remotely for the next few days. The trip comes as Hawaii recently relaxed many of its COVID-19 restrictions and regulations.
Earlier this month, Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced plans to make inter-island and trans-Pacific travel easier and outlined the path to ending all COVID-19-related restrictions.
Several months ago, the path to enter Hawaii included a 10-day mandatory quarantine period, multiple COVID-19 tests before as well as arriving at a Hawaii airport. These travel regulations are to ensure the safety of Hawaii’s residents and its guests and stop the spread of COVID-19.
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To date, if you are arriving on a trans-Pacific flight, you can avoid the mandatory 10-day quarantine if you complete the pre-travel testing program, which includes taking a COVID-19 test 72 hours prior to departure.
If you are fully vaccinated but did not receive the vaccine in Hawaii, you still need to take a COVID-19 test. As of June 15, if you are vaccinated in Hawaii, you can bypass COVID19 testing requirements for trans-Pacific and inter-island travel.
However starting on July 8, vaccinated travelers from the mainland will be allowed to bypass quarantine and skip testing, Gov. Ige said in a news conference on Thursday.
“The case counts are coming down. people are getting vaccinated. and there are fewer and fewer people who are at risk of becoming infected,” Ige said in a news conference Hawaii News Now reported.
Ige previously said when Hawaii reaches a 60% vaccination rate, the state will accept proof of vaccination for domestic travel and restaurant capacity can be increased to 75%.
The state’s vaccination rate currently stands at 57% according to the Hawaii state portal on COVID-19.
Until then, previous COVID-19 restrictions are still in effect.
So if you are planning a trip to Hawaii before July 8, here’s what you need to know:
Planning is key
Hawaii has required all visitors to register with the state’s Hawaii Safe Travels program, which includes taking a nucleic acid amplification (NAAT) test, like as a PCR test, from a state-approved testing partner within 72 hours before departure to Hawaii.
With travel ramping up to Hawaii since the spring, the turnaround time for COVID-19 test results vary depending on the provider.
I was departing on Tuesday so I made plans to get tested on the Sunday before. Initially, I made an appointment with my local CVS for a PCR test. They couldn’t guarantee exactly when the results would be available but said the average turnaround time was between 1-2 days.
As a precaution, I also made an appointment at my local Walgreens as a backup just in case the results of my CVS didn’t come in on time.
I can now see why TPG senior editor Clint Henderson took 5 COVID-19 tests for his Hawaii trip to ensure he had no issues entering the state back in April.
When Monday afternoon rolled around, I started to get nervous. Both CVS and Walgreens said they would be emailing my results but I had not seen any notifications come through yet and I was departing the following day.
Not wanting to take a chance, I saw there was a COVID-19 testing site at LAX which was a Hawaii-approved testing partner which could turn around results between three to five hours. So I made the decision to drive to the airport and get tested there to ensure I had results at hand.
After making an appointment, I arrived at LAX to already a long line of fellow travelers looking to get their test results quickly. The test itself lasted less than five minutes administered by a Clarity Lab Solutions staffer.
By the time I got back home, my results from CVS came through and a few hours later the results from my LAX trek also arrived.
The last one to come in was Walgreens which came in overnight at 3 a.m. Tuesday, the day I was scheduled to depart.
All three tests returned a negative result. If I had to do it again, I would have just gone straight to the on-site testing facility to ensure I received my test results well before my departure time instead of leaving it to chance.
The fine print and QR codes
After clearing the testing requirement, the next thing I had to fill out was the health questionnaire sent by the state of Hawaii after you register with the Hawaii Safe Travels program.
After uploading my test results and answering the questions, the system triggered a QR code which I needed to enter the state on arrival. I also made sure to print out my documents and took screenshots of them in case I needed them.
This QR code is key. I can’t stress that enough. Even before stepping on the plane, Delta staff repeated the importance of making sure all passengers filled this form out prior to landing. The message was repeated again as we prepared to land and when we deplaned.
Airport staff use this code to check your results in order to clear you so you can bypass the mandatory 10-day quarantine.
It took about 30 minutes to go through the screening process after deplaning.
I had no trouble with this part but a fellow traveler on my flight had a momentary scare when the airport staffer examined his documents.
The name on his ID didn’t match the name he registered on the Safe Travels program (he didn’t include his full name). In the end, he was allowed through but it was just a reminder to make sure all your documents are aligned with the information you provide.
No masks and buffets
Once out of the airport, any stress experienced getting here evaporated. While being surrounded by the beauty of Maui, its people and laid back atmosphere, the impacts of COVID-19 were still very much present.
Depending where you are traveling from, you may be used to seeing more people wearing masks all the time. On May 25, Gov. Ige lifted the mask mandate for all individuals outdoors.
The only places I saw people wearing masks were indoors at businesses and restaurants. While the CDC has expanded what fully vaccinated people could do, many people were still practicing social distancing when possible.
Buffets are open but very much retrofitted for the COVID-19 era. A server had to scoop up the food you pointed to and you had no access to serve yourself.
Despite these adjustments, just being around nature and other people outside a virtual call is a first step into easing back into a somewhat normal world.
While there were some initial stressful moments in making sure I met all the entry requirements, taking every precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is worth the price of admission to ensure everyone is doing their part to keep each other safe as we all ease back into the world of travel.
Featured image by Leezel Tanglao/The Points Guy
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