COVID-19 SPECIAL PROJECTS
Limited Scope Review of the State of Hawai‘i’s Mandatory Travel Self-Quarantine Program
A Report to the Legislature
Report No. 20-13 October 2020
From Hawaii State Auditor, October 2020 (excerpts)
On March 21, 2020, Governor David Ige issued his Second Supplementary Proclamation for COVID-19, mandating all travelers entering the State of Hawai‘i to self-quarantine, with limited exceptions, for 14 days or the duration of the person’s stay in the State of Hawai‘i, if less than 14 days. The effect on the number of arriving airline passengers was immediate and dramatic, with arrivals in April 2020 plummeting over 99 percent compared to a year earlier and remaining at depressed levels through August 2020.
The COVID-19 health screening process and travel self-quarantine (travel self-quarantine program) has evolved since March, but remains in place to this day. And, although the State plans to begin its pre-travel testing starting October 15 to encourage increased numbers of visitors and economic recovery, the travel self-quarantine program will very likely continue to be part of Hawai‘i’s COVID-19 response for the foreseeable future.
At the request of the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19, we performed a limited scope review of the travel self-quarantine program. Our review included a high-level analysis of the screening of trans-Pacific and interisland arrivals at Hawai‘i’s airports, the traveler information collected prior to and now through the web-based Safe Travels platform, the access to and dissemination of that information to those tasked with compliance checks and enforcement, and the enforcement of the self-quarantine requirement. We also obtained information about the State’s pre-travel testing program that will allow arriving trans-Pacific travelers with negative COVID-19 test results to be exempt from the self-quarantine requirement. 1
While we observed well-intentioned, hard-working state and county employees during our work on this report, we did find an overall lack of coordinated planning and communication among the state and county agencies involved. This has diminished the effectiveness of the self-quarantine program and raises questions about the program’s future success. Among other things, we were unable to identify any person who is dedicated to and has knowledge of all aspects of the travel self-quarantine program. Without that person – someone who is intimately familiar with each agency’s responsibilities and, as importantly, how each agency is performing those responsibilities – screening procedures are different at each airport, state agencies are unaware of county-specific issues, and the enforcement of the self-quarantine varies by county. And, while moneys to contract for private airport screeners, develop and maintain a web-based traveler platform, and generally stand-up the travel self-quarantine program have come from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, those moneys will expire by the end of the year. Yet, none of the people we interviewed were able to tell us how the travel self-quarantine program will be funded starting January 1, 2021….
The Incident Commander of the State’s response to COVID-19 told us that the purpose of the travel self-quarantine program was to reduce the number of visitors by deterring them from traveling to the state; the program has significantly reduced the number of arriving travelers, and we agree it has generally achieved that purpose. …
“When [DOT-Airports] started screening, I told them that we cannot have the perfect product. However, just by announcing it and doing it, we will eliminate 90 percent of the visitors,” said the HI-EMA Director,who has also been appointed by the Governor to be the Incident Commander for COVID-19. “At the beginning, there was a 98 percent reduction in visitors coming to Hawai‘i. This is a huge success.” …
… On January 1, 2021 DOT-Airports hands over the program to DOH, which has had little to no involvement in planning or operations. In addition, CARES Act moneys, which funded the lion’s share of the program’s development, must be spent before the end of 2020.
Especially concerning is, as of mid-September, there appeared to be little planning or even awareness of the impending handover. For instance, when we met with the Incident Commander, he had only been made aware of the changeover the day before. Meanwhile, DOH’s Deputy Director said that the department had been working with the DOT Acting Airports Administrator on the “operational kinks” of the coming transition but DOH staff had yet to start extensive planning in advance of the changeover. The Deputy Director did say that DOH intends to take over management of the two contracts in place with Roberts Hawaii and Worldwide Flight Services because DOH does not want to have to train new people, and that the department was working with the Governor’s Chief of Staff to identify possible moneys to fund operations as of January 1, 2021.
“This is a brand-new function for DOH. We do not normally do public health screening at airports,” the Deputy Director said. …
…as of mid-September, the Safe Travels dashboard listed 14,890 in quarantine, about 1,965 were “missing” (missed a check-in), and 1,320 never checked in at all.…
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