Hawaii is one of the top destinations in the world for good reason – its surf, sun, and sand are unmatched, and the aloha spirit greets anyone who arrives here. The coronavirus pandemic has obviously slowed down the pace of worldwide travel, and the islands have only recently begun to reopen. 

The state of Hawaii did not allow visitors for the first portion of the pandemic, limiting the case count and death toll from the virus. Being an isolated island chain in the middle of the Pacific, Hawaii has limited health care facilities to deal with widespread infection. Luckily, the restrictions imposed by the Hawai Department of Health and other health officials have kept Hawaiian residents reasonably safe compared to other regions of the US and the world. 

As vaccinations begin to roll out and the situation improves, the reopening of Hawaii has started. On October 15, 2020, the state began the Hawaii Safe Travels Program to allow visitors so long as they took part in a trusted testing system and produce a negative test before arrival. This program has been effective, but it has also been evolving with slight changes in the rules and regulations required if you want to enjoy a much-needed escape to Hawaii. 

Let’s dive in and examine everything you need to know to travel to Hawaii during the Pandemic.  

Coronavirus in Hawaii

Overall, coronavirus cases in Hawaii have been lower than in the mainland and other countries. Heavily enforced travel restrictions are a key part of this. As of this writing, all of the Hawaiian Islands have combined for a total of 26,846 COVID-19 cases. 7% of these cases, just under 2000, have required hospitalization. The death toll is lower here, as well. Most cases have been on the island of Oahu, the main population center and home to the capital of Honolulu. 

The numbers are small compared to some cities in the US, where they have seen a daily case count higher than the total for the entire state of Hawaii. New cases have been falling lately, coinciding with increased vaccinations and Hawaii residents following recommendations laid out by the Department of Health (DOH) and CDC, including social distancing, wearing face masks, and getting a COVID-19 test when possibly exposed or potential symptoms are seen.

Before looking at how you can travel to Hawaii during the pandemic, it’s essential to understand the unique nature of the island resources and why you need to respect the regulations that have been put into place. 

First off, there are a small number of hospital beds available. Kauai, one of the least populated islands, only has 9 ICU beds. Hawaii simply can’t manage a large-scale outbreak to the same effectiveness as larger states and cities. That’s why negative test results are crucial before you board your flight. 

Second, if you don’t follow the travel testing program or the 10-day quarantine required without a test result, you will be arrested, fined, and sent back to where you came from. They are not messing around about it. Aloha extends to every traveler here, but you won’t get the chance to experience it if you break those rules.   

Reopening – How to Travel to Hawaii During the Pandemic

The main thing you need to know to travel to Hawaii during the pandemic is that a negative COVID-19 test result from one of the approved testing partners in the Hawaii Safe Travels Program must be taken within 72-hours from the last leg of your flight. The major islands of Oahu, Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai all have slightly different regulations that we’ll take a look at below. 

When reopening began, there was a mandatory 14-day quarantine regardless of testing. Right now, it’s a 10-day quarantine for anyone who doesn’t produce a negative test result, in line with recommendations from the CDC. You need to have your quarantine arrangements figured out before arrival, and your test result needs to come in before you step onto the last leg of your flight. It also needs to be taken with 72 hours of that last leg’s departure. 

No matter if you come from another state in the US or a different country, you have to follow the same set of rules. The Hawaiian Tourism Authority is a useful resource for international travelers and keeps up to date with any changing rules and regulations.   

Oahu and Honolulu Travel Restrictions 

Oahu is a major hub for travelers, thanks to Honolulu International Airport. It sees the most visitors and has the largest population of all the islands. It also has seen the largest number of COVID-19 cases. Proof of Negative COVID-19 test is required from a state-approved trusted testing partner. The test result must be taken within 72 hours of the final leg of departure. A 10-day quarantine is required for anyone without a test result.  

Maui Travel Restrictions 

Maui is another popular island well known for its world-class resorts and amazing beaches. It also has a major airport with domestic and international flights arriving daily. Proof of Negative COVID-19 test is required from a state-approved trusted testing partner. The test result must be taken within 72 hours of the final leg of departure. A 10-day quarantine is required for anyone without a test result. Maui also now has a mandatory contact tracing requirement for all travelers. The islands of Lanai and Molokai fall under Maui county regulations as well.  

Hawaii Island (The Big Island) Travel Restrictions 

Hawaii island, also commonly known as the Big Island, is another major island and is heavily visited by tourists who want to see a volcano in action and many other unique attractions. Proof of Negative COVID-19 test is required from a state-approved trusted testing partner. The test result must be taken within 72 hours of the final leg of departure. A 10-day quarantine is required for anyone without a test result.

Kauai Travel Restrictions

Kauai is the least populated of the major islands and has the least resources available to fight coronavirus. The island has its own regulations due to limited resources and the need to keep residents here safe. To travel to Kauai, you will be subject to a 10-day quarantine regardless of a negative test result. This means you can’t test your way out of it and need to make arrangements for those ten days if you want to explore the rest of the island. 

Inter-Island Travel Restrictions   

Inter-island travel is possible but is subject to basically the same rules as flights coming into the islands. Hawaii residents wishing to travel to another island must take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their flight and will be required to quarantine for 10-days if not. Kauai has a mandatory quarantine in place for inter-island travel as well.  

Additional Considerations 

The state of Hawaii has taken a pretty strict approach to the pandemic. And it’s been working. People wear masks in public and at the beach here, and you will be arrested and fined if you don’t follow the travel regulations outlined above. If you do, you can have a great island getaway that will be unique because there simply aren’t as many travelers to the islands right now. 

Here are a few extra tips to help you get things in order for your potential trip. 

  • Remember that you must have your test taken before boarding the last leg of your departure. This means that if your flight leaves New York at 7 AM EST with a connecting flight in LA at 5 PM PST, your test needs to be taken 72 hours before that final flight. 
  • Not every test is accepted in the safe travels program, and just because you have an official-looking laboratory reporting paper doesn’t guarantee it will be accepted. It needs to be a trusted partner with the Hawaii Safe Travels Program. 
  • If you want to be extra careful, you can quarantine for 10-14 days before your trip to ensure you’ll have no issues with testing. I’d say that’s better than having to quarantine upon arrival!
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