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Residents: Travel Rules Appear to Favor Visitors

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

As Hawaii’s COVID-19 numbers continue to level off averaging around 100 new cases per day and no new recent cases for Molokai, daily cases across the mainland have reached all-time highs. The U.S. surpassed 11 million cases on Sunday, and one million just in the last week alone, according to the latest data.

Meanwhile, Hawaii residents continue to live under strict travel regulations, as visitors from mainland are welcomed by the state. As officials seek to balance safety with economic recovery, some locals say they feel visitors are being prioritized over residents. And as many in the Molokai community continue to hunker down and avoid travel, partly due to the many hoops of paperwork, testing, quarantine rules and regulatory hassle, some are getting fed up.

“I’m all for testing. I’m all for mask wearing. I’m all for whatever we need to do in order to beat Covid,” wrote Molokai resident PF Bentley on social media. “But when you open up Hawaii to visitors and treat residents like a second class after thought, we are not happy.”

Visitors from the mainland have the option to take a pre-travel test within 72 hours of arriving in Hawaii, at the travelers’ expense, to avoid a 14-day quarantine period once they land. The County of Maui has instituted a voluntary program promotes an additional, post-travel test — a policy the governor rejected signing into law — to minimize risk of spread from transpacific travelers who may have been exposed to COVID-19 en route to Hawaii. The post-travel testing is being sponsored by the county, free of charge to tourists. Meanwhile, interisland resident travelers — also given the option to take a pre-travel COVID test instead of quarantine (excluding travel within Maui County, which currently requires no testing or quarantine) — must pay for the test.

Molokai General Hospital announced it has partnered with the County to provide the free transpacific second test program for travelers arriving on Molokai.

“You do not need to meet any criteria to be tested. You do not need insurance to be tested,” the hospital wrote in a release. “The county is offering these tests completely free to help keep our community safe and healthy.”

Travelers must provide a copy of their flight itinerary and negative pre-travel test result. For an appointment, call the Outpatient Clinic at 808-553-3121.

The post got some positive feedback from residents on social media, but others pointed out the disparity.

“So free for mainland travelers but not for local inter island travelers?” wrote one resident.

“The state government has made it easier for visitors from the U.S. Mainland and Japan to travel within the Hawaiian islands than the people (and vote) who live here,” continued Bentley. “Airlines are in financial hardships since flight capacity is way low because residents are complaining that it’s too complicated to jump through all of the hoops to go from one island to another. Why is it bureaucratically easier (and testing cheaper) for us to travel to LAX, get a COVID test at LAX and fly back to another island? It appears that tourist money is worth more than resident money.”

Two weeks ago, Mokulele Airlines warned it is headed for financial struggles in the future if current travel regulations in Hawaii remain the same.

COVID testing at Molokai General Hospital through Diagnostic Laboratory Services has also been added to the list of Trusted Testing Partners accepted by the state for interisland pre-travel testing.

“We offer FDA authorized COVID-19 Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) required by the State of Hawaii for inter-island travelers,” wrote Molokai General in an Oct. 23 release. “NAAT is the only type of COVID-19 test currently approved by the state for this program. All tests are processed at DLS Labs, and results are sent via email within 72 hours. Whether you are traveling for business or pleasure, we are pleased to assist in keeping you and your ohana safe, healthy and happy.”

The cost of the test is $150, according to the hospital.

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