NOTE: My experience is no indicator or predictor of success for anyone else

At the time of writing (19 Dec 2020), there is a mandatory quarantine for all travellers arriving in Hawaii. Big Island is one of the islands offering an exemption if you provide proof of an approved negative COVID test result prior to departureThis Hawaii Tourism board post provides full details, but what I outline below may also help you if…

  • it is still current (refer to the links above for the latest updates on current travel restrictions to Hawaii, and Big Island in particular)
  • you are having trouble finding a location or available appointment with one of the approved COVID test providers
  • you are worried about the nose stick type of test, and you are able to generate a lot of saliva (kits are only to be used on people over 5 years old, and this isn’t easy for kids to do anyway. I actually had a bit of a hard time with it myself, and I had to think about a lot of delicious food to finish the job)
  • each traveler has a unique email address
  • you are not flying on Tuesday or Wednesday, and if you have six or more days before your flight to Hawaii to go through all these steps
  • you are comfortable with doing the test from the comfort of your desired location and able to connect with the testing provider over Zoom

Vault Health is an approved Hawaii COVID test provider, and was WONDERFUL to work with.

I was flying to Kona on a Saturday, and I started the process on Sunday night. If you want to do what I did, here are the steps:

  1. Figure out the day and time you need to take the test after. Take the test just after exactly three days before your flight to Hawaii is scheduled to depart – so if you’re flying on Saturday afternoon, you have to take the test on Wednesday. You’re aiming for less than 72 hours before your flight that will land in Hawaii, not any connecting flight. You will not be able to ship the test on the weekend, so flights on Tuesday or Wednesday won’t work this way. You will also have to take the test when a Vault Health test supervisor is available, which is M-F 8a-10p and Sa-Su 8a-8p Eastern Time. More info, but don’t let this confuse you: According to Hawaii’s rules, you need to take the test within 72 hours of your flight to Hawaii, so the clock starts 3 days before that departure time. However, the test result report does not indicate the time the test was taken, only the date, so it could be that time is actually irrelevant and only the day matters – I don’t know. Also note that if your flight is delayed, I have no idea if this will affect your ability to be exempt from quarantine.
  2. Figure out where you are going to ship your test kits from, and when. Look on the UPS app or website to identify the shipping locations you could use, and see there what the last drop off time is to make the Next Day Air cutoff for that day (it’s listed with each location). Ideally you will take the test, and then take it right to that UPS location so that it can be shipped out and arrive at the lab the next morning. The return label they provide is for Next Day Air, not UPS Next Day Air Saver, so it gets to the lab early as opposed to before the end of the day. That was comforting to me.
  3. Go to Vault Health website, and order a kit for each traveler. Note that at $119 their test is $20 to $30 cheaper than many other providers, and includes all shipping costs. Each traveler will need their own vault health login. There are no refunds, so before you order make sure you can generate enough spit to fill the larger-than-you-think-it-is vial they’ll send you (young kids may have a difficult time with this), and that it is at least two days before you have to take your test so they will arrive in time (three days if it is after 3P ET since they’ll need another day to arrive). You technically could order them the day before you have to take the test, but there’s risk they won’t arrive before you have to ship them. You certainly can order them way in advance, too.
  4. Get your trip information entered into the Hawaii Safe Travel site. You need to register with Safe Travels Hawaii website. Here you only need one login per family, and then you’ll put your trip details in and details about each traveler.
  5. Don’t open the kits when they arrive; wait for your zoom call. The kits will be shipped to you via UPS Next Day Air Saver, and will arrive by the end of the next day if you were able to order before 3p eastern US time, or the end of the following day otherwise. The test kits are individually packaged and shipped, and may not arrive together. I had one arrive in the morning, and two in the afternoon. This is the reason that I wouldn’t count on being able to take and ship the tests the day the kits arrive, because you may miss the next day air cutoff time if they don’t show up in time. Pro tip: sign up for UPS shipping notifications in the UPS app or website so that you can see when they’ll be coming.
  6. Start the process to take the tests at least one hour before you need to ship them.
    1. To save time on the zoom call, open each box to remove its contents, but do not open any of the packages within the test kit box until you are on the zoom call and the supervisor instructs you to.
    2. Throw the outer cardboard sleeve of the test kit box away.
    3. Get a permanent marker and write in large letters “STAT HAWAII” on the front and back on the box, on the ups return envelope, and on the silver test vial envelope.
    4. Now you need to update each traveler’s test profiles in the Vault Health website. If you log in using a device that has a camera attached to it (laptop, mobile phone, tablet, etc), you will be able to use it to scan the barcodes on the test vial and the return envelope, instead of typing them in manually. Again, do not open the packaging until you’re on your zoom call – you can see the barcode through it.
    5. Fill in the required information on the Vault Health website form, and submit it – repeat for each user.
    6. It is important to note that you only need to initiate the zoom call from one user, and they’ll be able to pull up all the other submitted users’ information. So for one user, click through to initiate the zoom call. Wait times are typically between 10-20 minutes, and you’ll also be on the call around 10-20 minutes with them if you have 3 travelers like I did. If the supervisor allows, you can all take your tests (sit there and spit in the vials) at the same time or close to it.
  7. Ship your tests!
  8. Get your results. Vault Health will email you when your tests arrive at the lab, and again when they complete the tests. We received our results within 24 hours of shipping them! This was a relief – it was well ahead of the 48-72 hour turnaround they promote on their website. Assuming the results are negative, log into Vault Health again, and under “Orders” you’ll see you can download a PDF of the “Hawaii Safe Travels Program” – you need to save this file and upload it to the Hawaii Safe Travel site for each traveler, and you should print this out and bring it with you when you travel. If you do not upload your pdf files before you fly, you will not get a quarantine exception, and there are ZERO exceptions to this rule. When you’ve successfully uploaded the forms, you will be emailed a QR code that airline attendants will scan at the airport to issue your blessed wristbands that indicate you are exempt from the quarantine rules. It is a good idea to print that QR code as well. If your results are positive, please rearrange your travel plans.
  9. Take the health survey the day before you travel. Log in again to the Hawaii Safe Travel site and select each traveler and take the survey. It isn’t available to take until 24 hours before you the scheduled departure of your Hawaii-bound flight.
  10. When you get to the gate for your Hawaii-bound flight, check in with the gate attendants who will scan your QR code, review everyone’s test results, and then provide you with wristbands to clear you through arrival checks. Get on the plane now and have a great flight!
  11. Arrive in Hawaii! Show your wristband to the arrival crew and you are cleared to go. I’ve heard that there is random testing happening at the airport, but I did not experience this or witness it.

One final thought – you were tested three days ago. Keep in mind that you still may have been exposed since then, so please act responsibly! Wear your mask, wash your hands, and avoid going out, especially where you’ll be in close proximity with others. Consider being tested again after you’ve arrived. A surge on COVID cases could be devastating for a remote island with limited healthcare options..

Aloha! -Liz