Four Islands, Eight Days, Three COVID Tests: Hawaii's COVID procedures in late May/early June 2021

You could say that our four-islands-in-eight-days saga actually began on day negative one: May 25th, when the three of us grabbed free Hawaii-compliant COVID tests at our local Walgreens stores. That test was actually my first COVID test...ever, administered a week and a half after hitting full immunity from the Moderna vaccine.

You see, as of my writing this, Hawaii only trusts vaccination records from folks who got the shot in-state, and only for inter-island travel, though the situation is changing rapidly. Everyone coming from the mainland needs a NAAT test (antigen rapid tests won't do the trick), administered via one of a specific list of organizations within 72 hours of the flight that lands you in Hawaii. Inter-island travel is a bit different; Hawaiian Airlines' website has the clearest information here (click Learn More right above the "Select your departure city" selector).

Testing On The Mainland

Fortunately, Abbott's ID NOW test is a supported NAAT test, Walgreens is a supported test provider (both transpacific and inter-island), and Walgreens will administer the test for free to anyone eligible. Thing is, having community spread of COVID in an area where you've recently been is sufficient for eligibility, and community spread is literally everywhere in the US, so booking a test is a quick, few-minute, online process. Mainland test locations, at least in central Texas, aren't busy, so Walgreens has plenty of test slot availability. In Austin, they let me bike up to the drive-thru test window (all tests are drive-thru). In Fredericksburg, they let the other two in my party test consecutively, rather than waiting for their slot time to come up.

30-40 minutes after returning the swab at the drive-thru, we got an email with results: negative. We grabbed the lab version of the PDF from the PNWHealth site that includes test results, then uploaded it to Hawaii's Safe Travels site (more on that later). Rinse and repeat one day later; since we were only spending two days on the Big Island (our first island-hopping destination), with our flight to the next island happening the evening of the second day, a test on the mainland the morning of our transpacific flight would be within 72 hours of our first inter-island flight. Which was great, because the only Walgreens with COVID tests in Hawaii is on Maui.

Testing In Hawaii

We used the Maui Walgreens to get our third and final COVID test...and it was a bit more of an ordeal. While inter-island travel to Oahu doesn't require testing, travel to every other island still does unless you were vaccinated in Hawaii. Since our last stop was on Kauai, we needed another test, taken in Hawaii...and the laws of supply and demand were not on our side.

So I set up a cron job to grab the big ol' JSON blob that includes test availability for every Walgreens location in the US (the one that powers their test availability page, filter it to the location on Maui, then text me when availability went from zero to nonzero. Turns out, that's midnight Hawaii time, for appointments three days later; we needed an appointment on Sunday to ensure our flight on Tuesday evening was covered. Appointments went quickly; while I didn't flat-out automate the form entry process for grabbing appointments, I clicked through as quickly as I could, but still wound up with appointments spaced an hour apart rather than consecutive fifteen-minute slots.

To make things more, erm, fun, that Walgreens was more of a stickler for the rules ("sorry, but if you don't follow this procedure your tests might be delayed or inconclusive"): you had to drive through the drive-thru, and you couldn't coalesce time slots for multiple people. We wound up having to borrow someone's car for two-and-change hours (we didn't rent a car on that island, rideshare was unreliable, cabs were nonexistent, hotel shuttle wouldn't go there) to get tested. Not now I wanted to spend the first half of our Sunday, but at $140 per test elsewhere the alternative was worse.

I'm glad to see that testing requirements are loosening as the months wear on, as that mayhem is something I wouldn't put anyone else through.

The Safe Travels App

Now, getting a negative test result on its own wasn't enough. Test results, as well as trip information in general, had to be keyed into Hawaii's Safe Travels web app. The app only supports one simple itinerary per "trip": you have an inbound flight, you stay at one location, and you fly back out (though fortunately inbound and outbound airports can be different), so we entered four trips into the system, skipping one of the Airbnb's on the Big Island when entering lodging as we stayed one night apiece in each. Each consecutive trip overlapped flights with the previous one, so we wound up with:


for specified flights.

For each trip, we waited 'til the previous trip (if any) was complete before uploading test results for the next one, skipping the trip to Oahu as they didn't require a test there. This waiting game probably wasn't necessary but I wasn't about to provide another opportunity for wires to get crossed when I couldn't see a quick way to contact the app's administrators in such an event.

In contrast to this waiting game, while nominally the per-trip travel questionnaire (which takes maybe 60 seconds to fill out on a phone, 45 of which is getting the signature panel to work) is supposed to become available 24 hours before the inbound flight, we got emailed to complete ours closer to 36 hours ahead of time, with a follow-up reminder text a few hours later regardless of whether the questionnaire had been filled out. We filled out the questionnaire shortly after receiving the email telling us to do so, and didn't have any issues stemming from that.

On questionnaire completion, we got emailed a confirmation with a QR code attached; the QR code also shows up on the Safe Travels portal. The code is complex enough that I can't get it to scan on my phone, but uploading it to an online decoder spits out a URL of the format So it's an identifier rather than some fancy digital signature thing...which is good; the code only ever got scanned at an airport, so offline verification wasn't necessary.

The QR code got scanned by Hawaii government folks with iPads at three of the four airports (Kona, Kahului/Maui, Lihue/Kauai), and we were asked to show the trip information in Safe Travels (but the code wasn't scanned) when getting our rental car at the Kona airport, as well as when checking into our hotel in Honolulu. At the Honolulu airport on arrival, we were asked to show our inter-island boarding pass instead...I had to show my itinerary on the Southwest app as the boarding pass had expired in-app and I was using the app rather than a screenshot.


When we were on Maui, technically you were supposed to install Hawaii's AlohaSafe phone-based contact tracing system, which uses the Apple/Google contact tracing frameworks under the hood, though no one ever asked us about it. The app shows case count and positivity stats by island and overall, with trends over the past week, but otherwise sits in the background and bugs you periodically if Bluetooth connectivity is turned off (I had my phone in airplane mode during parts of some hikes where I knew I'd just be burning battery searching for service).

By the time we uninstalled the app on the flight back to Austin, none of us had been pinged with an exposure notification.

Post-Arrival Testing

Due to our route and vaccination status, we didn't have to take any post-arrival COVID tests in Hawaii (our Walgreens escapade was a pre-departure test). When we landed in the Big Island, antigen testing was required by default, but you could skip it if you showed your CDC vaccination card or a photo thereof, and the practice was dropped entirely less than a week later. On Maui, since we flew in inter-island, we didn't have a mandatory post-arrival test, and didn't bother with the free, optional antigen test.

Masks, Distancing, and Capacity Constraints

Hawaii lifted its outdoor mask mandate the day we landed in Kona. An indoor mandate was still in effect, and some businesses continued to request folks mask up on the premises; in both cases, most folks complied. I was masked up a bit more often than I needed to be, due to bouncing between buses (masks also required) or indoors, but as we were primarily outdoors, there was plenty of mask-off time. At times, Hawaii's island-style architecture made it hard to figure out where indoors ended and outdoors began, at which point folks tended to err on the side of caution. In a number of cases, folks were still masked up outdoors, either out of caution, due to moving quickly between mask-required areas, or maybe because they had arrived prior to the mask mandate dropping on the 26th.

In contrast to mask mandates, social distancing rules were, as a rule, ignored. Yes, the markings on the floor were still there, but they weren't being followed. Distancing on trains and boats was inconsistent, whether self-enforced or crew-enforced, though buses generally still had a buffer zone between driver and passengers, in addition to the usual plastic barrier. Beyond that, I recall unscheduled indoor capacity limits in effect twice (once at a park on the Big Island, once at an ABC Store), plus a location or two (e.g. the Maui Ocean Center) that were reservation-only rather than walk-up-allowed as a capacity control.

In Sum...

The way things are going, Hawaii's COVID mitigation measures will look quite different (in a more permissive direction) on July 4th than they did over the Memorial Day weekend. With that said, once inter-island testing requirements wind down, all measures barely rise to the level of "mild inconvenience," providing a counterpoint to folks thinking that restrictions would usher in a never-ending era of government overreach...on that front, at least. I will say that the indoor mask mandate had me preferring free-standing Airbnbs to hotels, but I can't think of anything that we flat-out weren't able to do due to COVID protocols.


Travelling in the current environment is certainly a new experience for everyone, bringing a new meaning to travel, not sure whether it's good or bad to be honest.

By the way, I'm part of the @Pinmapple curation team and we are dedicated to curate travel content on Hive. We'd love to hear about your four-islands-in-eight-days experience. You can pin your travel posts on ot build your personal Hive travel map, and you could also get greater exposure and support because @pinmapple curates from content pinned onto the map. Just click on the 'get code' at the top of the map and follow the instructions or check out the FAQ to get your post on the map.

You're also welcome to join our Haveyoubeenhere community and post your travel posts from there. Pinning your post on Pinmapple not only increases your post exposure, you may also get even greater support from Pinmapple if you're curated by us. Hope to see you soon