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Hawaii’s COVID Protocols Are Severe, Cases Are Still Going Up, And Your Vaccine Doesn’t Matter. Will We Ever “Return To Normal?”
Most Americans in the lower 48 states are fed a steady diet of COVID news and scaremongering, with the never-ending debates over “lockdown” (read: Democratic) states, like Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, California, and Pennsylvania; versus “free states” (read: Republican) like Texas, Florida, and, to varying degrees, most everyone else.
Being overlooked is the State of Hawaii. It “reopened” to tourists on or about April 5th. They’re not making it easy to visit. And it’s complicated by a surge in new cases, not unlike other lockdown states. And it might make other lockdown states jealous.
I am penning this from the County of Kaua’i, Hawaii’s northernmost island, and geologically its oldest. It is our fifth trip to America’s 50th state. If you’re planning an upcoming visit, you should seriously consider what’s involved. It’s not like visiting any of the 49 states, vaccine or not.
It’s not as bad as Canada, since the Canadians have practically closed their borders except for essential travel. And those who get through have to quarantine for three days, at your expense, in an approved facility while you await your government COVID test results, in 3 days (not hours). Same with Australia, I’m told, with up to 14 days in quarantine.
Even, reportedly, if you had a vaccine. And if you don’t have a smartphone or are not technologically proficient with it, you are asking for trouble with your Hawaii visit. That’s because the first thing you must do, well in advance of travel, is to visit Hawaii’s official travel website. You must create an account and begin filling out and uploading documents, especially your approved COVID test results. They even invite you to upload a photo of yourself.
Nowhere do they ask for vaccine information. It doesn’t matter. Seriously.
Getting here this time was a challenge, thanks to Hawaii’s state and local government COVID restrictions. No problem, I thought – without carefully reading the notices and advisories. I had my Johnson & Johnson vaccine shot in early April. Surely that would suffice. Nope.
You have to obtain a COVID test taken within 72-hours of travel, vaccine or not. Not just any COVID test, but a specific PCR (whatever that means) test from one of their approved partners. And you need to upload the results via a .pdf file to your Travel Hawaii profile.
I thought surely, my Arlington County, Virginia’s COVID antigen testing regime would suffice. We have a walk-up testing clinic less than two miles from our home, conducted through a company named Curative. I uploaded the test results to my Travel Hawaii website profile. Not only was the test “not approved,” but Curative is not a trusted partner. Forget that, despite a negative test result.
We asked our Hawaii resort for advice. Go to CVS, they advised. So we did, scrambling to get an appointment at one of their very efficient “minute clinics” the day before our departure. After waiting 30 minutes for the results – negative, again – I asked for a written copy of my test results as a backup if I had problems with Hawaii’s website (and it is inaccessible occasionally).
I casually mentioned to the nurse that I needed the test result for Hawaii travel. She looked at me, startled. She had just received the requirements for Hawaii, which would reject my test results. I had to get a different test. Where do I get that, I asked her. A blank stare was my response. Thanks, CVS, but no thanks. At least I wasn’t out any money for either of my Arlington tests – just a couple of lost hours and growing frustration. CVS is a “partner” with Hawaii, but, again, my results were “not approved” when uploaded to my Travel Hawaii website profile.
Instead of packing for my trip, I begin spending a few frustrating hours doing some online research for options. I was drawing blanks where I live in northern Virginia (too late, it seems). Surely LAX, where we had a brief layover, might have a testing center for Hawaii. Yes! Clarity had several testing sites at LAX, and they were an “official partner” with the State of Hawaii, with results in 3-5 hours before we would land in Lihue. If all went according to plan (on-time flights, etc.), we would land, hike our way to the site two terminals away, then hike back through security for connecting flight – $250 later (two tests). Not covered by insurance.
Clarity has a sweet deal with LAX and the government of Hawaii, it would seem. If I were still an investigative reporter, I might “follow the money.”
Online reservations were easy; lots of time slots available, and everything went according to plan – no wait. I even received my test results via email just as we were departing for Hawaii. I was able to convert my test results into an Acrobat .pdf file (thanks to Apple iPhone’s iOS Safari browser) and upload it onto my Hawaii official travel profile before takeoff and losing any onboard internet coverage (American flights to Hawaii do not have internet coverage over the Pacific Ocean).
But that’s not all. Within 24 hours of travel, you need to log on to your Travel Hawaii profile site and answer a “health questionnaire.” Once you do that successfully, you are emailed a QR code that government officials will scan upon arrival to access your profile with your uploaded documents and determine whether you have to quarantine or are exempt.
Again, no questions about vaccines. And the airports (DCA and LAX) and planes were completely packed. What pandemic?
We would arrive, deplane, and be led on a weird, meandering walk under the watchful eyes of airport staff and wait in line to be cleared by an official. The airport staff was friendly and helpful, and it seems everyone on our plane had done their homework before departure and arrival. Things went pretty smoothly. You must show ID (Stacey Abrams, call your office). QR codes were scanned and cleared; we handed a boardwalk-style paper ticket to get our luggage and proceed on our way, exempt from quarantine.
Oh, but that is not all. Your “journey” is just beginning. Starting with a 2.5-hour wait in line for your rental car (thanks, Avis/Budget/Payless, along with your less-than-informative and unfriendly staff). At least that was my experience after some 14 hours of travel. When you finally show up at the counter, you have to use your smartphone to visit your Travel Hawaii profile so the car rental staff can confirm that you are exempt from quarantine. I then discovered why the rental car line was so long; poor cellular coverage at the airport (there is no web access outside the main terminal or at the car rental shops).
And then you get to do it again when you check into your hotel. Ours gave us yellow wristbands to wear to prove we’d been cleared. But the masks stay on, indoors and out, even in fitness centers while working out—no more than one person per elevator (outside of family groups). Restaurant and retail shop hours are limited. And when they ask to see your profile on the Travel Hawaii website, showing that you’re exempt from quarantine, they ask for ID.
We’re just getting started on this lovely trip, and I’m sure the frustrations will melt away here in paradise over the few days. I am blessed to be here, and the government-imposed hurdles qualify as first-world problems. Meanwhile, while here, I’ll need to keep my smartphone at hand with ready access to my profile page on the travel Hawaii website page every time we want to engage in many activities.
With so many advances in medical and other technology, I’m sure Bill Gates and others will be introducing us to “wearable” or other things that governments can quickly scan to make sure our future social credit scores or detailed testing and health status are up to date, accessible, and all too convenient. This is one area where China is clearly “ahead” of us.
Why did I get my vaccine again? Return to normal?Published in