Hawai‘i has officially opened its doors to travelers from the mainland! How will COVID-19 affect my trip to Hawai‘i?
Flights to Hawai‘i on the morning of the reopening, carrying over 10,000 passengers.
Like the rest of the country, Hawai‘i has been deeply affected by the COVID-19 virus. Visitors from the U.S. mainland are now allowed to avoid quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours prior to flying to Hawai‘i. (International visitors are not allowed in yet.) If, by chance, your test results are not available by the time you land, you will have to quarantine in your hotel room until your negative test result comes in.
It’s not hard to get in the aloha spirit, but you’ll have to make sure you’re healthy before traveling.
Here’s how it works:
You’ll need to create and register an account with Hawai‘i’s Safe Travels program. This is part of the state’s efforts to verify all travelers to Hawai‘i. Each adult (18+) will have to create their own account—any minors in your party can be added to an adult account. Here you’ll enter all your contact information and trip details.
Within three days (72 hours) before your flight, you’ll need to take an approved COVID-19 test (an FDA-authorized nucleic acid amplification test [NAAT], to be precise). These are currently provided by companies that have partnered with the state.
- AFC Urgent Care
- American Airlines
- Bartell Drugs
- Carbon Health (for Alaska Airlines)
- CityHealth Urgent Care (for flights out of Oakland)
- Color (for United Airlines flights out of San Francisco)
- CVS Health
- Discovery Health MD (for flight from or through Seattle)
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Kaiser Permanente (for members only)
- Quest Diagnostics (drive-thru at over 500 Walmart locations)
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airlines (for flights out of San Francisco)
- Vault Health (done by mail at home with saliva)
- Walgreens (free self-administered test)
For these tests, you’re usually handed a swab that you roll around each nostril. (With most of these companies, you aren’t required to take the more awkward test that shoves the swab way to the back of your sinuses.) Then you wait for the results to be sent back to you. (See the graphic below for an example of how your results might look.) Also, United Airlines provides same day tests for flights out of San Francisco for their customers (for a hefty $240). Hawaiian Airlines also tests their travelers leaving from San Francisco and Los Angeles at drive-thru sites and plans to announce the same from Las Vegas and Phoenix soon. You can either get it the same day for $150 or 36 hours from flying for $90. And if you’re leaving out of Oakland, the airport will test you in advance for free. And Alaska Airlines will provide tests for passengers to Hawaii leaving from Seattle, with more cities to come.
Twenty-four hours before your flight, you’ll get an email from the Safe Travels program containing your unique QR code—you can print this out or have it ready to be scanned directly from your smartphone. (We recommend having a printout for a backup—it’s 2020 and having your smartphone unexpectedly die mid travels just feels extra likely, right?) You will present the QR code to officials upon landing in Hawai‘i, plus get another temperature check. If your health info checks out and you have less than a 100.4 ºF temperature, you’re free to be safe and explore Hawai‘i.
For some baffling reason, 16% of the 10,000 passengers who arrived on the first day of Hawai‘i’s reopening did so without taking any tests, and were promptly ordered to quarantine for a full two weeks. Note that quarantine doesn’t mean you can’t leave your resort. It means you can’t leave your hotel room, and there are mechanisms to enforce that, so make sure you get tested before you get here.
Your ticket to explore Hawai‘i.
What if my results aren’t available in three days?
The state claims they have made contracts with those testing sites to make sure that they will be done in three days. But again, if they fail, then upon leaving the airport you will be required to stay in your hotel room until the test results are pushed to your Safe Travels account. You will then be free to be safe and explore Hawai‘i.
What if my results are positive before I fly?
Then there won’t be any aloha for you. You’ll have to cancel your trip and quarantine until you test negative. (Fortunately, there’s never been a better time to change or cancel airline reservations because most airlines are waiving those fees.)
What if my test results don’t come in on time, and once they do come in, while I’m in Hawai‘i, they are positive?
Well, then you’re gonna have a problem. You will be required to quarantine in your hotel room for 14 days at your own cost. Make sure that you check with your hotel (or any other place you’re staying) that you can quarantine on the property until the tests come in.
Need to visualize the process? Here’s a flowchart that will show you what to expect if you’re traveling to Hawai‘i.
Can I get COVID-19 on the airplane?
According to the CDC, “Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes,” and a study released in October says the risk is “virtually non-existent if you wear a mask.” Perhaps the most comforting thing is to remember that, in theory, airplanes flying into Hawai‘i should be the safest planes in the country, because your fellow passengers have been screened before boarding.
Airplanes get thoroughly disinfected between flights.
What if I have children under 12?
Kids under 5 don’t need to be tested and many (but not all) of the testing sources above will test kids 5–12.
What if I want to visit more than one island?
You can fly from any island to O‘ahu with no restrictions. You can fly from any island to Kaua‘i, Maui or Big Island with the same policy you followed to get to Hawai‘i—take a test less than 72 hours before flying in. (Lana‘i is the one island that you’ll want to avoid because that small island has a cluster outbreak and little health care available, so they are facing lockdown.) If you are flying inter-island after flying in from the mainland you don’t need any additional tests.
For Inter-island Covid tests before flying to neighbor islands, these are the state’s “trusted partners.”
Clinical Laboratories of Hawaii: Visit clinicallabs.com to schedule an appointment and for more information on locations and how to obtain lab results. All lab tests require an order by a licensed healthcare provider in Hawaii.
CVS Health (Longs): Travelers may schedule an appointment up to two days in advance at select CVS Pharmacy drive-thru locations. Tests are available for ages 12 and older. Pre-registration is required. Info more information can be found at cvs.com/selfpaytesting.
Hawai‘i Pacific Health: Tests are offered at Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women & Children on Oahu and Wilcox Medical Center on Kauai in partnership with Clinical Labs of Hawaii. Appointments are required at Kapi‘olani and must be scheduled online at clinicallabs.com/covid. No appointment is necessary at Wilcox. More information on site locations, hours and cost can be found at hawaiipacifichealth.org/covid19testing.
Kaiser Permanente (for members only): Schedule a test online or contact the appointment call center or nurse advice line in traveler’s home region for scheduling instructions. Kaiser Permanente members returning home to Hawaii may call the Away-from-Home Travel Line at (951) 268-3900 for scheduling instructions. Information can be found at kp.org/travel.
Minit Medical: Schedule testing online prior to travel to other islands. Minit Medical has three clinics on Maui with drive-up testing available. Appointments are required; call (808) 667-6161 or logon to Minitmed.com.
Walgreens: Testing is available at no cost to eligible individuals who meet CDC criteria. Tests available for ages 5 and older. All drive-thru testing locations operate outdoors and patients do not leave their vehicles. Appointments are required. Find more Information at walgreens.com/covid19testing.
Urgent Care Hawaii: Register at ucarehi.com. Limited walk-ins can be accommodated; results are emailed within 24 hours. Call 797-7980 for more information.
Vault Health: At-home tests with real-time audio-visual supervision are available with Vault Health, the first FDA-authorized saliva test. Tests available for ages 5 and older. Tests are mailed with accurate results in 72 hours or less. Information and costs can be found at learn.vaulthealth.com/state-of-Hawaii.
What’s it like flying these days?
You have to wear your mask at all times in the airports and on the planes unless you’re actively eating or drinking. And speaking of the latter, don’t expect food service, even in first class. And it might be difficult to buy food in the airports because so many businesses there are closed. The smart money is to bring your own food in the form of sandwiches and other things that don’t need to be refrigerated. You’ll probably be able to get water in the plane, but that might be it. Airlines use an impressive array of tools to disinfect their aircraft. Having said that, I still bring wipes with me and treat all the areas around my seat that I might touch. (Don’t forget the tray table.) I went to and from Hawai‘i three times during the shutdown (and had to endure three two-week quarantines) and, since I have a goatee, I decided a clean shave would be helpful for the long mask-wearing journey.
What’s it like flying? Well, a little less busy right now.
Once I’m in Hawai‘i, what should I expect?
Well, for one thing, uncrowded conditions. Hawai‘i went seven months with virtually no visitors and is not expecting a return to big visitor numbers for the foreseeable future. That means there has literally never been a better time to visit the islands if you hate crowds. The neighbor islands have few restrictions other than wearing masks in public around others, but O‘ahu has restrictions that limit beachgoing and other activities.
Some of the routinely busy beaches are almost entirely empty right now.
Any other testing I need?
Nothing for O‘ahu. When you land on neighbor islands they will ask for some visitors to volunteer to come back in a few days and test again and might offer coupons or other freebies to encourage you to agree.
What is the COVID-19 situation in Hawai‘i?
Compared to other places in the U.S., Hawai‘i is doing well. The neighbor islands in particular have been affected far less than the mainland. Since the pandemic began, the cumulative number of cases on the Big Island are around 1,000, Maui cases are measured in hundreds. And on Kaua‘i it’s only measured in the dozens. O‘ahu was lightly impacted until after 4th of July weekend when a spike emerged. It took awhile for the numbers to go down but in all they’ve had over 12,000 cases. So bottom line? O‘ahu is like many places on the mainland whereas the neighbor islands have been lightly touched by comparison.
What will Hawai‘i be like once I arrive?
In addition to the guidelines for getting to Hawai‘i, we try to keep our finger on the pulse of everything going on in the islands. We have contacted companies in every corner of the visitor industry and have found some general guidelines to keep in mind:
- Most businesses will prefer cashless transactions (online reservations, credit cards, etc.).
- Hand sanitizer and/or hand washing stations will be provided by many businesses, often at the entrance or by a roving crew member.
- Many tours will require a temperature check at check-in (boat tours especially).
- Expect any tour that previously included a meal to have a limited offering that is individually wrapped and never buffet-style.
- Face masks and social distancing will be required in all public spaces.
- Gear rentals (snorkel, scuba, bike, surf, etc.) will still be available through various outlets, such as hotel concierges. They promise enhanced cleaning of equipment.
- Parties cannot have more than six per table.
- You’ll find plexiglass dividers at bar spaces, allowing only two guests per section.
- Expect more take-out options than dine-in.
Shave ice is still a tasty bet for takeout.
- Lots of enhanced cleaning procedures, many with details specific to each property.
- Many hotels are offering lots of flexibility with direct reservations made between now and Dec. 31. You should be able to change these dates without fees or penalties.
- Masks and social distancing will be required in all public spaces.
- Contactless and mobile check-in will be more prevalent.
- Valet parking will probably not be available.
- Reduction of some amenities, especially those related to food and beverage services. Expect limited hours for things such as lounges.
- Fitness centers will likely require reservations and have limited hours.
- Pools will have limited hours and reconfigured deck chair/cabana layouts.
- Hot tubs and whirlpools will likely be closed at most properties.
- Beach chairs will be available at many locations, but will require reservations.
Pools might be less crowded when they’re open, or you may need a reservation.
- Most are closed and have not given updated policies.
- Expect closures until at least the end of October.
- We will post more information as it becomes available.
The lu‘au stage is going to look an awful lot like this for a while—most are closed until at least the end of October.
Hawai‘i is about more than just seeing the sights. A big part of our job is reviewing all the companies and activities that you will want to do while in the islands. COVID-19 will likely have an impact on what activities you choose to do. After speaking directly with many companies, here’s what you should expect. Note that some industries/companies are still formulating their plans. Check our website for updates to any information that seems limited in this list.
- A mixed bag. Some companies may not open until the end of 2020. Those that are in operation will have limited group sizes.
- Masks required at all stages of tour (from check-in and throughout the tour).
- Cleaning of all spaces and equipment before and after tours.
- Limits to group size.
- Masks required, probably at all times.
- Cleaning of gear before and after use, no second use in same-day policy for companies that have large fleets.
Staying 6 feet apart is already something of an ATV policy, but expect limited group sizes as well now.
- Operating at 50% capacity. So a boat that normally carries 60 passengers will only carry up to 30. Also, other restrictions to group size may be in place such as five or six people per ticketed group. (Your party size is limited to five.)
- Face masks required when boarding, disboarding, and should be worn when practical during the tour.
- Enhanced cleaning of spaces, especially before and after tours.
- No buffet-style lunches.
- Expect only private tours available in early stages, with a maximum of six people.
- All equipment sanitized before and after each use.
- Masks and latex gloves available.
- Shuttle services will be limited if available at all.
- Currently no camping available except maybe at some private campgrounds (e.g., Olowalu on Maui).
Private campgrounds are the name of the game for now.
- Only private tours (no combined groups). Limited party size to six or less.
- Rentals and shoreline fishing on your own or as private tours are still available.
- Masks and social distancing required.
- Some properties with multiple courses may have them open on a rotating schedule.
- Golf bags drop may or may not be available. Some may offer services to clean your clubs for you after golfing.
- Beverage carts will not be available—bring your own hydration.
- On-course playing procedures and practices will likely be altered. Check with specific courses for details.
- Expect longer intervals between tee times to encourage social distancing.
- League, group play and tournaments suspended.
- No touching of flag sticks; rakes and sand bottles will likely be removed.
- You may be asked to bus your golf cart (trash and recycling receptacles will be provided).
- Depending on location, some hikes will not be available (e.g., backcountry hikes at national parks).
- Masks and social distancing will be required at parking areas as well as visitor centers (though most won’t be open).
- Limited hours for national parks: closing at 5 p.m.
- A few state parks remain closed or operating at limited hours.
- Trail conditions on some trails are a tad rough around the edges. We don’t know how state and county maintenance workers spent the 7 agonizing months of the visitor shutdown, but it’s safe to say maintaining trails was not a priority.
Social distancing is already a common feature of hiking trails, but there are a few new policies in place at many parks.
- Only private tours available, with limited group sizes (usually two to four people).
- Only private tours available, with limited group sizes (usually two to six people).
- Even when guided tours are not available, rentals will often be available from the same tour companies.
- During boat dives, face masks will be required at all times while topside (no, not while underwater).
- You’re likely to have assigned seats on the boat, with appropriate social distancing measures.
- You will also likely have a personal dry bucket/space.
- You will probably be required to bring your own water bottle and have individually wrapped lunches/snacks.
- Expect enhanced cleaning of all high-traffic surfaces, including the marine head (or bathroom to you landlubbers).
Boat policies look a little different to keep surfaces clean, but fortunately the reefs are still as pretty as ever.
- Most are associated with hotels and guidelines/policies have yet to be announced.
- Expect limited services, if any at all.
- Limited group sizes with most only offering private tours.
- Rentals will be available from the usual providers.
The good news is it’s already easy to stay a safe distance apart on a SUP board.
- Many companies are not planning to open until November or December and have not given any updates as to COVID-19 procedures.
So there you have it. Hawai‘i is opening its doors, and you will find businesses hungry and eager to have you. The beaches are still the same (though less crowded), and the landscape hasn’t changed. Hawai‘i has missed you more than you could know.
Our Revealed guidebooks still make a great travel companion, but it’s not possible to update them yet because things are constantly changing. Our apps, however, will be updated constantly, and the changes will seamlessly get pushed to all our Hawaii Revealed apps.
Also, our new GPS driving tour apps (coming soon) are like having the author with you in the car, personally guiding you and telling stories and legends. (In fact, it’s even better than having him in the back seat because you won’t have to buy him a mai tai at the end of the day.)
Nothing in this blog is carved in stone. So many things here are a moving target and hard to predict. (Kind of like 2020 as a whole, huh?) So as things change, we will update it all here.