HONOLULU – The Hawai'i National Guard is helping the state's Office of Enterprise Technology Services (ETS) and Department of Health verify COVID-19 test results of visitors in the Safe Travels Hawai'i program.
The Safe Travels Hawai'i program allows people to travel to the islands and skip the mandatory 14-day quarantine, provided they present a negative COVID-19 test. The test must be a Nucleic Acid Amplification Test from a certified Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment lab, and taken 72 hours before departing to the islands.
Within days of the program's launch, a hiccup in the online system caused thousands of tests to appear unreadable and forced travelers to quarantine until their test results could be verified. Government officials moved quickly to fix the problem and assigned Lizabeth Thomas from ETS to train a team of Guard members to help clear the backlog.
"They were easy to train," said Thomas. "The National Guard has done a fantastic job to get trained and up to speed with the process of manually verifying uploaded documents to put travelers in an exempt status, i.e., no more quarantine."
As of Nov. 4, Soldiers with Company A, Task Force O'ahu, reviewed and updated over 2,065 visitor test results and account status.
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Riki Reynolds, the commander of Company A, TF O'ahu, leads a small team of Soldiers that make a difference in whether traveler's test results require them to remain in quarantine.
"The backlog was pretty significant because of an issue in the program application," said Reynolds. "It can only read a certain type of document. Travelers are sending pictures from their cell phone, which can't be verified by the system's artificial intelligence."
However, there are other reasons for the backlog.
"Most times, the uploaded test result did not have the test collection date, or the test was taken outside the 72-hour window prior to departure," said Thomas.
U.S. Army Sgts. Erick Arevalo and Ryan Pang, cavalry scouts with the Hawai'i Army National Guard, were trained to help identify and manually review travelers with 'verification in process' as their account status.
"Ms. Thomas helped make this process easy because of the training and information she shared," said Pang. "It was effective in executing our daily mission."
The team works on laptops in a classroom to analyze each traveler's application status.
"Each account can take about a minute or more depending on the amount of research needed," said Pang. "Some are easier because they're already marked exempt and cleared by the state, and others we have to verify whether they've used one of the approved trusted testing partners."
Some of the accounts proved a little more difficult, but the Guard members were able to assist many travelers.
"The process also depends on the actual visitor and how complex their case may be as they may have multiple family members," said Arevalo.
Refinements to the system's programming and help from the Guard members have made it possible to get the backlog under control.
"Trusted travel partners improved lab test results by providing it in a single format," said Thomas. "The Safe Travels Hawai'i site guides travelers to which type of documents to upload. With these improvements, in addition to the manual verification process, it has made the backlog much smaller and more manageable."
"Be patient and keep up with (travel) guidance put out by the state," said Arevalo. "It may help speed up the process when planning a trip to Hawai'i."
About 800 members of the Hawai'i National Guard are involved in the state's pandemic response, helping multiple communities on six islands.