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Traveling to Hawaii soon? Make sure to get the right COVID-19 test

Posted at 5:00 AM, Jun 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-09 09:32:26-04

PHOENIX — Nearly two million people flew over the long weekend ahead of Memorial Day, marking the busiest days at airports since March 2020, according to TSA data.

Despite positive signs that the country is continuing to move in a positive direction -- cases are down and millions have been vaccinated -- some states still have COVID-19-related protocols and rules in place, something that travelers need to remember.

Martha Lubeach and her daughter, Beke, booked a tropical vacation to Hawaii, but when they arrived, they found themselves away from the beach and quarantined inside their hotel room.

"My daughter was taking me to Hawaii to celebrate Mother's Day and to celebrate my husband's birthday, who passed away seven weeks ago," said an emotional Martha Lubeach.

She and her husband were married for more than 50 years.

Her daughter, Beke, thought a stay on Waikiki Beach would have good for both of them.

Currently, Hawaii requires travelers to have a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of their departure, but only specific types of COVID-19 tests are allowed, something that has confused travelers before.

Without it, travelers either have to leave the island and fly back home or undergo a 10-day quarantine.

Martha and Beke said they received their negative COVID-19 tests at CVS and told the testers that they needed them for an upcoming trip to Hawaii. Both tests were negative.

But, when they arrived in Honolulu, officials told them that they had received the wrong test.

"They said 'no, you can't come in, you got the wrong test,'" said Martha. She tried arguing the validity of her test, asked to take another test, and showed that they were both vaccinated, but officials at the airport would not budge.

"After 2 hours, security came and escorted us out of the place," Martha said. They were transferred to their hotel and told that they would have to quarantine in their room for the next 10 days.

"They said we lock you in a room and you can't come out," she said. If that did, they could have been fined or even arrested, she said.

"When I did open the door, security is standing there as close as can be as if I would try to run. I've got a bad leg, no way I could," Martha said.

From their room, the Lubeachs said they called Hawaii's SafeTravels program, the Governor's Office, and anyone else who would listen to their pleas. Finally, they contacted Hawaiian Airlines and booked a trip back to Phoenix the following day.

"I felt like a criminal, I really did. I felt like the whole world was closing in on me," she said.

A spokesperson for the state of Hawaii said they were sorry about the Lubeach's experience, but said the state has made it clear that Nucleic Acid AmplificationTests (NAAT) are the only acceptable COVID-19 test to get into Hawaii.

Antigen tests, which is what the Lubeachs were given, are not accepted, even if negative.

Hawaii says the requirements are in place to "reduce health risks of travel during this active pandemic."

For the Lubeachs', they wonder why they weren't made aware of the issues prior to their trip and how they were even able to get on the plane?

"They didn't say anything was wrong. So, we assumed it was all right," Martha said.

When she got back home, Martha said she called the CVS location where she and her daughter got their COVID-19 test.

"They said it's not their problem. It was the test. I said, 'it's got to be someone's problem,'" Martha said.

In a statement, CVS said it was "aware of the requirements" traveling to Hawaii and said travelers "need to ensure they are selecting the proper test as required." CVS would not discuss the Lubeachs' specific case.

Here is the full statement from the state of Hawaii:

The Hawaiʻi Safe Travels team continually works to make Hawaiʻi's travel requirements during this ongoing pandemic clear through our messaging and on the website HawaiiCovid19.com. We are sorry that Beke Lubeach and her mother Martha did not have a good experience on their recent visit. However, it is highly recommended that travelers research and understand the rules in place for the location they plan to visit. HawaiiCovid19.com is clearly and frequently highlighted on all State of Hawaiʻi websites as well as many travel sites.

To reduce health risks of travel during this active pandemic, the State of Hawaiʻi has a mandatory 10-day quarantine for anyone entering the state - both residents and visitors alike. In order to facilitate travel as safely as possible, travelers may seek an exemption from quarantine. The state of Hawaiʻi has posted all requirements for bypassing the mandatory quarantine on its website: HawaiiCovid19.com. The site and digital platform is very clear that Hawaiʻi does not accept antigen tests.
https://hawaiicovid19.com/travel/travel-overview/

We also asked them some specific questions about Lubeach's case:

Joe: "Had a question about the system showing that Beke's test was not accepted. Do you know when that would have been seen?"

Hawaii spokesperson: "The status of the test result upload would have been seen within seconds after uploading."

Joe: "But one concern from these two, is there something that could be put in place before someone gets on a plane to head to Hawaii? Could there be a check-in process to make sure everything is good before anyone is allowed to step on a plane with a Hawaii destination?"

Hawaii spokesperson: "Travelers should check their document upload status right after uploading their document. If it does not say COVID-19 negative, travelers can contact our travel help desk at info@gohawaii.com, or Call: 1-800-GOHAWAI or (1-800-464-2924) for assistance. Travelers may also call the Safe Travels Digital Platform Technical Service Desk (10 a.m. to 10 p.m. HST): 1-855-599-0888."

Also, Beke Lubeach traveled on Hawaiian Airlines. There is a pre-clear program available at PHX, among other airports. Please see information here: https://www.hawaiianairlines.com/coronavirus/pre-clear-program. It appears she did not participate in the pre-clear program.

There are also other pre-clear programs with other airlines. The information is found on the individual carrier's website. "

Joe: Also, if a test needs to be taken within 72 hours, can it be tough to get results posted and a determination before a flight to Hawaii?

Hawaii spokesperson: There are many options for trusted testing partners and we encourage those that may find it challenging to find a testing partner who can deliver test results within the 72-hour window. There have been more than 3.5 million travelers to Hawaii who successfully met the requirements of the pre-travel testing program since it started in Oct. 2020."

ABC15 also reached out to CVS. Here is their statement:

We have been a Trusted Testing and Travel Partner for Hawaii since the state launched its pre-travel COVID-19 testing program last October and are aware of the requirements put in place by the state of Hawaii for the pre-travel COVID-19 testing program. We currently have more than 4,000 COVID-19 drive-thru test sites at select CVS Pharmacy locations that provide the type of testing required by the state for this program. We recommend that people use the following link (as included on the State's website outlining the requirements for travel to the islands) to properly access the test sites that provide the type of test that meets the state's requirements.

As noted on our website, we currently manage test sites at our CVS Pharmacy locations that use two types of COVID-19 testing to check for active infection. Our rapid-result testing locations perform antigen testing, which returns results within hours and our other testing locations send the sample offsite to independent third-party labs, where they perform polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing and provide results within 1-2 days on average. If someone is getting a test for a specific purpose such as travel, they need to ensure they are selecting the proper test as required by their airline, destination, or other requiring organization. Certain travel destinations and airlines do not accept rapid-result testing.

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