It's finally happening: As of today (Thursday, July 8), Hawaii officially allows vaccinated travelers from the mainland to bypass confusing testing requirements and mandatory quarantines to visit the islands.
The change has been in the works for months as a vaccination campaign gained steam on the mainland and on the islands. Hawaii reopened to travelers last October with testing requirements, but constantly changing restrictions that varied from island to island made travel more complicated. Since mid-October, all travelers were required to present a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 72 hours from departure.
Now, fully vaccinated travelers can simply upload their Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccination card to the Hawaii Safe Travels portal before departure and show their card again upon arrival to skip those testing requirements altogether. Hawaii considers travelers to be fully vaccinated 15 days after receiving the second dose of a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or the single Johnson & Johnson shot.
That's a much easier path to make way for Hawaii. Children under 5 are exempt from both vaccination and testing requirements. Children ages 5 to 12 will still need a negative COVID-19 test to visit Hawaii, even when accompanying vaccinated parents.
Unvaccinated travelers must still provide a negative test to enter Hawaii, as do international visitors.
Shifting to vaccination requirements for travelers has been in the works for months in Hawaii, one of the last remaining states with any travel restrictions. Ige and other Hawaiian officials see proof of vaccination as the best way to simplify those restrictions and bring back more tourism without putting the islands at risk.
“The case counts are coming down. People are getting vaccinated. And there are fewer and fewer people who are at risk of becoming infected,” Ige said while laying out the timeline at a news conference last month.
Other changes in Hawaii are underway, too. It's gotten easier to island-hop, as Ige has dropped all inter-island travel restrictions regardless of vaccination status. At the same time Hawaii relaxes travel restrictions, restaurants across the islands will be allowed to expand to 75% capacity. Social gatherings can get larger, too.
And when the state hits a 70% vaccination rate, Ige says Hawaii will drop all travel restrictions as well as its longstanding mask mandate. Masks are already optional outside. Hawaii News Now reports that 58% of Hawaiians are currently vaccinated.
But Ige warned that some of these restrictions could return if COVID-19 case counts climb again, citing the growing concern about the new Delta variant.
Despite the constant allure of Hawaii, travel to the islands cratered throughout much of the pandemic. Months after reopening, December visits were still down by 75% compared to a year earlier, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. But that has picked up recently, with visitor numbers in May nearly quadruple what Hawaii saw just four months earlier in January.
Hawaii is a tourism magnet, and COVID-19 hasn't changed that. But the patchwork of ever-changing rules and restrictions has warded off even the most die-hard Hawaii fans from heading for the islands.
But now that's changing. As of Thursday, July 8, fully vaccinated travelers can bypass those testing requirements by uploading their vaccination card and bringing it with on their trip to Hawaii. That's a much simpler pathway to paradise – though children 5 to 12 will still need to get tested.