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How Hawaii’s COVID-19 testing program could serve as a blueprint for a wider reopening of international travel

While it was closed to visitors for much of 2020, Hawaii reopened to tourists in October. Given that tourism is the top moneymaking industry in the 50th state, reopening quickly and safely is vital for businesses of all sizes on every island.

In the past few months, the government of Hawaii has introduced 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. The resurrections are more similar to those in Ireland or Iceland compared to near-perfect textbook examples of how to fight the virus in New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea.

Still, Hawaii launched a detailed program this fall, suggested by some travel industry experts as a template for reopening international travel, even if approved vaccines begin 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 programs similar to Hawaii that require a valid PCR test prior to arrival, ”says Jason Feldman, Co-Founder and CEO of Vault Health, the saliva-based mail-in tests (versus a nasal swab) for home use with video conference monitoring to ensure the test is being performed properly. “Most airlines have done a remarkable job of making travel safer, especially with more flights over the holidays [when] more people will travel. Pre-arrival and post-arrival tests are smart to protect yourself and others. “

Lanai, 90,000 acres of secluded Hawaiian paradise, has become a popular destination for travelers seeking luxury during their vacation.
Courtesy of Four Seasons

And so far, experts in the travel industry have not seen the stricter requirements as a deterrent, but on the contrary.

“These rules are very specific, and knowing that the state is so careful when entering the country makes travelers feel more comfortable. We know that the requirements can be challenging for travelers too, ”says Misty Belles, executive director of a luxury travel agency virtuoso. “For example, they have to schedule their COVID test shortly before they leave. Travelers use airlines that offer preflight testing. Hawaii is so dependent on tourism – they know if you get this wrong and COVID spreads across the islands it will be years before it comes back. “

The hope and intent is that Hawaii will serve as a blueprint for other parts of the world, Belles says. “We heard about the possibility of travel bubbles and travel corridors early on, but nothing has happened at this point. If Hawaii gets it right, international destinations could emulate this model, opening up both business and leisure travel that are so important to the economy. “

The key, she continues, is to ensure that strict standards are maintained at both entry and exit points. “We cannot have one set of protocols at one destination with a different set of protocols at another destination. Success depends on both countries working together to make this work.”

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

All international and domestic trans-Pacific travelers to Hawaii must submit a negative COVID-19 test performed within the last 72 hours to avoid a mandatory 14-day quarantine. (The notable exception is for travelers visiting the island of Kauai. which from December 2ndrequires a 14-day quarantine for all visitors – with or without a COVID test.)

However, visitors cannot take any COVID-19 test. Rather, Hawaii requires a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) from a certified CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) laboratory provided by one of the states named test partner. For Americans planning domestic travel, this includes a few accepted test partners CVS health, Costco and Walgreens. But even these large retailers don’t offer COVID-19 testing in every location, making it difficult for some potential Hawaiian visitors to easily get tested before leaving.

Vault’s COVID-19 test is conducted under supervision via Zoom video call to eliminate the risk of personal exposure to the virus.
Courtesy of Vault Health

Hawaii has approved fewer than a handful of healthcare providers offering COVID-19 testing at home, including Vault Health. “We work with several state governments who want to enable tests for their residents and travelers. Hawaii is a unique case in that they rely on tourism for their economy, ”said Feldman, CEO of Vault.

Safe health is also the exclusive mail-in option accepted by the state. Vault consultants oversee saliva collection Zoom to ensure the sample is properly secured and sealed for accurate results, which is preferred by state governments and airlines. The tests are available for patients of all ages and are sent via FedEx and arrive on your doorstep within 48 hours of ordering. The results can also be sent back via Fedex within 24 hours. Individual tests cost $ 119. Vault will provide a detailed receipt detailing the cost of the test that can be presented to insurance for reimbursement under CARES law. The company also accepts HSA and FSA funds.

Upon arrival in Hawaii, visitors will find that hotels and resorts have significantly increased their requirements and disinfection protocols to help contain the spread.

Under the new COVID-19 protocols, each Four Seasons property will appoint a hygiene officer who will focus on implementing improvements to already stringent procedures.
Courtesy of Four Seasons

The four seasons in Lanai, for example, took a remarkable turn in the last quarter. Lanai was untouched by the pandemic for months suffered a severe outbreak in October. Most of the hotel properties are owned on the island oracle Co-founder Larry Ellison, whose funding is reported to have been instrumental in not only containing the virus by investing in test supplies, but also keeping employees on the payroll if further pandemic aid wavers in Congress. Since then, Lanai has kept its daily average of new cases as of December 15 constant at zero.

Lanai hosts two four seasons Locations with 50% utilization: the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, a more traditional island resort with a lush pool oasis and four-star restaurants like Nobu;; and Sensei Lanai, a Four Seasons Resort, which is touted as an ultra-wellness getaway with a guided experience tailored for each individual guest based on their wellness needs and primarily outdoors. Aside from the four seasons of the year, the 140-square-mile island offers some other tourist-friendly activities like a horse riding trail and ferry terminal for local sailing and connections to Maui as well as one Startup for hydroponics that sells its organic products in the greater Hawaii area.

Each outbreak creates longer-term economic problems for Lanai workers and residents, which has inspired the Four Seasons to develop a rigorous health and safety program. Lead with care. Developed in collaboration with Johns Hopkins Medicine International, the program includes additional training for employees, new protocols for handling food, and improvements to ventilation systems and other back-of-the-house operations.

The rooms are disinfected daily with EPA-approved products and subjected to a black light inspection by the housekeepers. Public areas are cleaned every hour, with particularly frequented areas such as reception desks and public toilets being given special consideration. Restaurants and bars can operate with reduced capacity and socially distant seating, and almost all restaurants must, wherever possible, offer an a la carte service with digital menus. In-room dining means contactless delivery outside the guest room as well as sustainable one-way packaging. On arrival, special kits containing masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes are provided in each guest room. Additional masks can be provided by the guest service upon request.

The Four Seasons Resort Lanai has 213 guest rooms in a number of low-rise buildings along the Pacific coast and offers a private living experience.
Courtesy of Four Seasons

Although many resorts like the Four Seasons also have specials to draw in visitors (the Honolulu to Lanai flight is included on all bookings through March 31), most hotels don’t offer huge discounts compared to the bargain prices currently on offer at Major US -american airlines. That’s because there’s still healthy tourist traffic to Hawaii this winter, and Virtuoso’s Bellu says there’s more demand than supply.

“Of course people want to go there. They reopened their doors methodically and in a very structured manner to ensure security, ”says Belles. “Beyond standard tourism, Hawaii is creative in attracting people to stay longer to ensure more money is flowing through their economy for longer periods of time.”

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