August 8, 2022

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Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! Following weeks of anticipation, Gov. David...

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Following weeks of anticipation, Gov. David Ige on Tuesday announced that the Safe Travels Hawaii program will not require booster shots for travelers to bypass the state’s mandatory quarantine.
Ige has been asked whether he would add boosters to vaccination requirements since December, when the presence of the omicron variant was confirmed in the state, but had only hinted it was under consideration. During a Jan. 26 conversation on the Hono­lulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight Hawaii” live­stream program, he said the state was working out details of what would be required, but never offered a definitive date.
On Tuesday, Ige announced boosters would not be required, after all, and that the program would remain unchanged.
Under the Safe Travels program — put in place to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 — domestic travelers to Hawaii can bypass a mandatory five-day quarantine by either showing proof of their “up-to-date” vaccination status, defined as 14 days after the initial series of vaccine shots without the booster, or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arrival.
“In making this decision, we considered declining COVID-19 case counts in Hawaii, the continental U.S. and Europe,” Ige said in a news release. “Hospitalizations have also dropped. In addition, we looked at Hawaii’s robust vaccination rates and the continued push by businesses and organizations to get their employees vaccinated and boosted for the safety of their families and the community.”
The state, will, however, keep its indoor mask mandate in place, Ige said, along with other rules that have helped Hawaii manage the pandemic while reopening the economy.
The announcement comes just a day after Maui Mayor Michael Victorino dropped a booster requirement for patrons entering the county’s restaurants, bars and gyms.
Victorino had required the boosters for just two weeks before reversing course, attributing the decision to declining case counts and hospitalizations.
On Tuesday the state Department of Health reported 533 new infections, bringing Hawaii’s total since the start of the pandemic to 227,817 cases. It was a third day in a row that daily case counts had fallen into the triple digits instead of above 1,000 as has been the case since at least Dec. 24.
The seven-day average of new cases statewide also fell to 988 Tuesday, a 70% drop from two weeks ago, while the average positivity rate dipped to 9.8%.
The number of patients with the coronavirus in hospitals is also on a downward trend, with 204 reported by the state Tuesday, down from 321 Feb. 1. Of the 204, 19 were in intensive care and 13 on ventilators.
During the omicron surge in January, some advocates were pushing for boosters to be added to requirements due to the waning efficacy of the initial vaccinations against the highly contagious variant.
Some still think boosters should be required because they help prevent infection and severe illness from omicron.
“I believe that boosters should be part of Safe Travels and any type of program if you’re trying to protect people from COVID infection,” said Dr. Scott Miscovich of Premier Medical Group. “In general, it seems like the political will of our state leadership has been lost and they are no longer going to be concerned about visitors coming into the state of Hawaii and guaranteeing they are not infected with COVID.”
The pandemic is far from over, he warned.
“We are still in the pandemic,” he said. “We do expect that we will have at least one to two more variants that will occur this calendar year, and we do not have any idea of the severity of those variants.”
Miscovich recommends all who are eligible to get their booster shots, particularly those with underlying health risks.
DOH Director Dr. Elizabeth Char also emphasized the importance of boosters, citing new research showing a third shot of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine is 90% to 94% effective in keeping people out of the hospital.
“Omicron case counts are dropping but we don’t know if or when we may see another surge in cases of COVID-19,” said Char in the news release. “Getting vaccinated and boosted now will help to prevent you from becoming seriously ill.”
To date, 75.2% of Hawaii’s population has completed vaccinations, while 35.8% is boosted.
John De Fries, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said he was grateful for the governor’s decision — made following weeks of conversations with a broad cross section of industry representatives.
The hospitality industry is still in recovery, he said, and adding another level of restriction would potentially have resulted in more cancellations and deferred travel plans. At the same time, the industry understands the need to balance economic concerns with health care capacity and community safety.
“Outrigger is aligned with Hawaii Safe Travels as a means to help keep both our visitors and residents healthy,” said Sean Dee, executive vice president of the Outrigger Hospitality Group, in a statement. “We applaud Gov. Ige for keeping this program consistent and clearly articulating that a COVID-19 booster is not required for travel to the Hawaiian islands.”
HTA encourages visitors to stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines, wear their masks and travel responsibly throughout the islands. Also, De Fries said many of Hawaii’s businesses continue to “work diligently” to get their employees vaccinated and boosted.
Maj. Gen. Kenneth S. Hara, incident commander for the state’s COVID-19 response, said the decision was collaborative, made in coordination with DOH, the four county mayors and the travel, retail and restaurant industries.
Ige said while he considered the visitor industry’s concerns, his decision was based on the “assessment of the health and safety of Hawaii’s residents.”
Additionally, Ige said DOH is working on criteria that would allow the state to eventually end Safe Travels Hawaii altogether.

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Hawaii governor, citing drop in COVID-19 cases, will not mandate booster for travelers appeared first on