Hawaii will lift restrictions on intercounty travel starting June 15 amid rising vaccination rates that the state hopes to push to the finish line with lucrative incentives that include trips to Las Vegas and a year’s worth of Zippy’s.
With Hawaii on track to reach a 55 percent vaccination rate by mid-June, Gov. David Ige laid out plans for the eventual end of the Safe Travels program that has required travelers to test negative for COVID-19 in order to bypass the mandatory 10-day quarantine.
Starting June 15, quarantine and testing requirements for intercounty travel will end, and quarantine exemptions will also be extended to travelers entering the state who have been vaccinated in Hawaii, Ige said during a news conference Friday.
Once 60 percent of the population is vaccinated, Hawaii will begin to accept vaccination cards for trans-Pacific travelers who were vaccinated in the U.S. and are traveling from the continental U.S., Alaska and U.S. territories.
Once Hawaii reaches 70 percent, all restrictions on travel will be lifted and the Safe Travels program will end.
“I want to be very clear that all of this is subject to continuing monitoring of the Department of Health for the impact on variants and other health determinants in our community, such as health care capacity and other public health measures,” Ige said. “We will always take appropriate action should there be a health crisis in our community. I can and will change policies based on the health conditions that we see and the rate of virus circulating in our community.”
Hawaii has slowly been rolling back restrictions as vaccination rates rise and COVID-19 rates fall. On May 11, the state began allowing intercounty travelers who were fully vaccinated in Hawaii to bypass testing and quarantine. On May 25, Ige lifted mask mandates outdoors for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
Health Department Director Dr. Libby Char said that Hawaii has been seeing a decrease in cases, averaging 52 new cases per day over the past two weeks. Char credited the decline to vaccination rates — 52 percent of the state’s population had been fully vaccinated as of Friday — but said “we’re not done yet.”
The department recently released data on vaccination rates by ZIP code, and Char said health officials aim to make the vaccine more easily available to residents, especially in areas that may face barriers to access.
In June alone, there will be more than 300 vaccination sites across the state, including beaches, malls, farmers’ markets, churches and other locations, Char said. Expanded walk-in hours and pop-up clinics will be available, Ige said.
Meanwhile, local businesses and restaurants are launching incentives for the month of June to get people vaccinated. Sheryl Matsuoka, executive director of the Hawaii Restaurant Association, said that prizes available to people over 18 include a one-year lease on a quality SUV or sedan, a Vacations Hawaii Las Vegas package for two, four pairs of round-trip tickets on Alaska Airlines, Papa John’s pizza for a year, a $1,000 gift certificate to Merriman’s, a year’s worth of Zippy’s and $500 gift certificates for L&L catering, among other prizes.
The Marriott is also providing 1 million points on its rewards system, while Hawaiian Airlines is donating 1 million Hawaiian miles to be allocated into 10 separate prizes, Hawaiian Airlines President and CEO Peter Ingram said Friday.
“Even though these restaurants and businesses are still digging themselves out of that great big financial hole that COVID left us, they still want to say thank you to the community and please get vaccinated, by donating all those great prizes and incentives,” Matsuoka said.
Prizes, deals and discounts from local businesses are available at www.higotvaccinated.com/.
As of Friday, Kauai County had the highest vaccination rates with 51 percent of the total population fully vaccinated, followed by 45 percent each in Maui and Honolulu counties and 44 percent in Hawaii County.
“Hawaii’s people so far have done a great job with vaccinations,” Ige said. “We need to push hard now so we can get to a point where Safe Travels is no longer needed to keep the people of Hawaii safe.”
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.