Thursday, February 29, 2024

How Hawaii’s COVID-19 Testing Program Could Be A Model For A Wider Reopening Of International Travel

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Although it remained closed to visitors for much of 2020, Hawaii reopened to tourists in October. Since tourism is the 50th state’s main income-generating industry, reopening quickly – but safely – is crucial for businesses of all sizes on every island.

In recent months, the Hawaii state government has imposed entry and quarantine rules that are strict compared to other US states; its geographic advantage as an archipelago has not proven to be a particularly effective barrier against the virus, with resurgences closer to those seen in Ireland or Iceland compared to near-perfect manual examples of virus control, such as in New Zealand, in Singapore South Korea.

Still, Hawaii has put in place a detailed program this fall that some travel industry experts say could serve as a model for reopening international travel, even if approved vaccines start rolling out in the coming months.

“Given the size of our country and the rapidly growing infection rate, other countries are very concerned about Americans traveling abroad. Several countries have implemented similar programs in Hawaii, requiring a valid PCR test before arrival, ”says Jason Feldman, co-founder and CEO of Vault Health, which offers saliva testing by mail (versus a nasal swab) at home use with video conference supervision to ensure that the test is performed correctly. “Most airlines have done an amazing job of making travel safer, especially with more flights available during the holidays. [when] more people will travel. Pre- and post-arrival testing is smart to keep you and others safe. “

Lanai, the 90,000-acre secluded Hawaiian paradise, has become a popular destination for travelers seeking luxury experiences while on vacation.
Courtesy of Four Seasons

And so far, travel industry experts don’t see the more stringent requirements as a deterrent, but quite the opposite.

“These rules are very specific and knowing that the state is so careful at entry makes travelers feel more comfortable. We know the requirements can be tough for travelers as well, ”says Misty Belles, Managing Director of a luxury travel company Virtuoso. “For example, having to time their COVID test just before they leave; travelers take advantage of airlines that offer pre-testing. Hawaii is so dependent on tourism – they know that if they are wrong and COVID spreads across the islands, it will take years for it to return.

The hope, and the intention, is for Hawaii to serve as a model for other parts of the world, Belles says. “We heard about the possibility of bubbles and travel lanes early on, but nothing has materialized at this point. If Hawaii gets it right, international destinations could emulate this pattern, opening up both the business and leisure travel that is so important to boosting economies. “

The key, she continues, is to ensure that high standards are maintained at points of entry and exit. “We can’t have one set of protocols at one destination, with another set of protocols at another destination. Success depends on cooperation between the two countries to make it work.

Vault Health is working with Infinity BiologiX and Spectrum Solutions to offer home saliva testing for coronavirus.
Courtesy of Vault Health

All international and domestic transpacific travelers to Hawaii are required to submit a negative COVID-19 test performed within the previous 72 hours to avoid a mandatory 14-day quarantine. (The notable exception is for travelers visiting the island of Kauai, which, on December 2, requires a 14-day quarantine for all visitors, with or without COVID testing.)

However, visitors cannot take just any COVID-19 test. Rather, Hawaii requires a Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) from a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) certified laboratory provided by one of the states. designated testing partners. For Americans currently planning to travel within the country, some accepted test partners include CVS Health, Costco and Walgreens. But even these large retailers don’t offer COVID-19 testing at every location, making it difficult for some potential visitors to Hawaii to get tested easily before departure.

Vault’s COVID-19 test is performed under supervision via a Zoom video call, eliminating the risk of person-to-person exposure to the virus.
Courtesy of Vault Health

Hawaii has approved less than a handful of healthcare providers who offer home COVID-19 testing, including Vault Health. “We are working with several state governments who want to unlock tests for their residents and travelers. Hawaii is unique because they depend on tourism for their economy, ”says Feldman, CEO of Vault.

Safe health is also the exclusive email option accepted by the state. Vault Consultants monitor saliva collection via Zoom to ensure that the sample is properly secured and sealed for accurate results, which is preferred by state governments and airlines. Available to patients of all ages, tests are sent via FedEx and arrive on your doorstep within 48 hours of ordering. Returned via Fedex also, results can be made available within 24 hours. Individual tests cost $ 119. Vault provides a detailed receipt outlining the cost of the test which may be subject to insurance for reimbursement through the CARES Act, and the company also accepts HSA and FSA funds.

Upon arriving in Hawaii, visitors will find that hotels and resorts have dramatically stepped up their sanitation requirements and protocols to stem the spread.

Under new COVID-19 protocols, each Four Seasons property appoints a sanitation officer responsible for implementing improvements to already strict procedures.
Courtesy of Four Seasons

The Four Seasons of Lanai, for example, experienced a remarkable turnaround in the last quarter. Despite having been spared from the pandemic for months, Lanai suffered a serious epidemic in October. Most of the island’s hotel properties are owned by Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, whose funding would have been critical not only to tackle the virus by investing in testing supplies, but also to keep employees on the payroll as any new pandemic aid fails in Congress. Lanai has since kept its daily average of new cases at zero, as of December 15.

Lanai hosts two Four Seasons pitches, open at 50% occupancy: on Four Seasons Resort Lanai, a more traditional island resort with a lush pool oasis and four-star restaurants such as Nobu; and Sensei Lanai, a four-season hotel, which is billed as an ultra-wellness getaway with a guided experience organized for each guest according to their wellness needs and taking place mostly outdoors. Aside from the Four Seasons, the 140-square-mile island has a few other tourist activity spots, such as a riding field and a ferry terminal for local navigation and connections to Maui, as well as a start of hydroponics which sells its organic products in greater Hawaii.

Any epidemic risks long-term economic hardship for workers and residents of Lanai, which inspired the Four Seasons to develop a rigorous health and safety program, Lead with care. Developed in partnership with Johns Hopkins Medicine International, the program includes additional employee training, new food handling protocols, and improvements to ventilation systems and other operations inside the home.

Rooms are sanitized daily with EPA approved products and will be subject to blacklight inspection by room attendants. Public areas are cleaned hourly with particular attention to frequented areas, such as reception counters and public toilets. Restaurants and bars can operate with reduced capacity and remote corporate headquarters, and almost all restaurants should offer a la carte service with digital menus where possible. In-room catering means contactless delivery outside of rooms with durable, single-use packaging. Special kits are placed in each room upon arrival, providing masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, with additional masks provided upon request from customer services.

The Four Seasons Resort Lanai has 213 rooms in a series of low-rise buildings spread along the Pacific Coast, providing a private residential experience.
Courtesy of Four Seasons

While many hotels like the Four Seasons also promote special offers to attract visitors (the plane ticket from Honolulu to Lanai is included in all bookings through March 31), most hotels don’t do not offer significant discounts over the lower basement rates currently available from major US carriers. That’s because there is still healthy tourist traffic to Hawaii this winter, and Virtuoso’s Belles says there is more demand than supply.

“People want to go there naturally. They reopened their doors methodically, in a very structured way, to ensure security, ”says Belles. “Beyond standard tourism, Hawaii is getting creative in getting people to stay longer, ensuring more money flows into their economy for longer periods of time.

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