A Wisconsin family says they're out about $5,000 after their vacation to Hawaii was scuttled by confusion over COVID-19 tests.
After contracting the virus over Christmas, the Casey family, of Menomonee Falls needed to get out and go somewhere warm.
"For 24 days before this the four of us were stuck in the house for a straight 24 days," Katie Casey said.
"Our kids didn't have any symptoms, but they then had 10 days from our last symptoms. So it's most upsetting because they were stuck. Including all of winter, they were stuck with us and we wanted to see them smile," said Patrick Casey, Katie's Husband.
The family decided to take a trip to Hawaii.
"We did hype our kids up for about three weeks," said Katie.
Katie, Patrick and their children, ages four and two, drove to Chicago, and on Jan. 25, and boarded a Southwest flight to Maui. After 13 hours of travel with two young kids, they got off the plane to learn they had taken the wrong type of COVID-19 test.
"We got an antigen test and we didn't know that that was not acceptable," Patrick Casey said. "Upon them seeing our tests at the Maui airport, what they did was actually turn around a piece of paper that said four acceptable and three non-acceptable. Neither of us work in the healthcare profession and we weren't sure there were seven different types of tests let alone two different types of tests."
Katie Casey said while booking the family's flight online, nothing stood out saying they would need a certain kind of negative COVID-19 test.
Southwest referred the family to the State of Hawaii travel website where the couple had to create a safe travel account, fill out a health assessment and upload their negative test results once they got them. They also had to download a contact tracing app on their cell phones.
They were linked to a travel partner website for more information on COVID-19 testing.
"Hawaii had a list of trusted partners you could take tests with," Katie Casey said.
"Katie and I spent quite a bit of time enrolling in Safe Travel Hawaii," Patrick Casey said.
The website does say it only accepts what's called (NAAT) Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests at a certified lab from a "trusted testing and travel partner."
Katie Casey said she wasn't sure what NAAT meant, so she scrolled down the page looking for a "trusted partner." There, she found CVS Health listed — where she and her family had their antigen COVID-19 tests conducted.
"You have to take a test within 72 hours of leaving the mainland and we were leaving on a Monday, which means that we would have to get tested on a Friday. We were concerned about the timeline there, so we wanted to do the rapid test," Katie Casey said."Before you leave for Hawaii you also have to upload your test results to their website."
The couple later said their test results were still "pending" months after they uploaded them.
After being confronted by officials at the airport, the Caseys had a decision to make.
"They told us that we would either have to quarantine for 10 days or we could turn around and go back to L.A. and get the test there," Katie Casey said. "Or, we could go back home and get a test — and for the price of flying four people back — and then go back to Hawaii, when we were only going to be there for a few days. It didn't make sense."
Officials said if the family didn't self-quarantine, they faced a $5,000 fine per person.
"We did talk to the Hawaii health official and tried to explain to him that we already had COVID-19 and he wasn't interested in seeing our results or anything about that," Katie Casey said.
The family opted to fly back home and stay home.
"So, we didn't have enough diapers to last our daughter the 14-hour flight back. So, we had to go with one diaper the rest of the way back. She ended up with a terrible diaper rash," Katie Casey said.
Return flights and extra fees and the money they lost on their Airbnb, the Casey family is out about $5,000.
"I would love to get it back but just the fact that this was able to happen to us is the most upsetting," Katie Casey said. "There were many places where we could have been notified."
Their trip to Hawaii wasn't one with sun and sand. It was time spent at airports and on planes.
"Our son actually counted up the number of flights. So, we had been on seven different planes," she said. "He's like, 'I never want to go on a plane again, Mom!'"
Below are their responses from CVS, Southwest, and the Office of the Governor for Hawaii.
Office of the Governor for the State of Hawaiʻi:
The Hawaiʻi Safe Travels team is very sorry that this family had this experience on a recent visit as we continually work to make Hawaiʻi's travel requirements during this ongoing pandemic clear through our messaging and on the website HawaiiCovid19.com. 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 is very clear that Hawaiʻi does not accept antigen tests.
Concerning the couple uploading its antigen test onto its Hawaii Safe Travel website:
If the test result was verified by the system, the results status would have been read as COVID-19 Negative within minutes.
Concerning the couple not being informed before their flight that they had the incorrect COVID-19 test:
Our site is very clear that Hawaiʻi does not accept antigen tests. Travelers seeking exemption from the 10-day quarantine must schedule their test through a trusted travel or testing partner. The current list of trusted travel and testing partners is on HawaiiCovid19.com
Not every CVS performs tests that meet Hawaiʻi's requirements. It is highly recommended that travelers select a trusted testing partner through the links on the state's website.
On statement claiming couple was not allowed access to their luggage to get diapers for their toddler at the airport in Maui:
Travelers traverse from the arrival gate to the processing center. They exit the center once they complete processing. For most travelers, this is a 2-3-minute interaction with an airport screener.
If travelers have not met the optional conditions for exemption by producing a valid negative test, they will sign the quarantine orders, confirm their information (contacts and place of lodging) and clear any county requirements. They are then free to collect their baggage and leave the airport to head directly to their location of quarantine.
If travelers opt to return to the mainland instead of quarantining, they book their own flight. They would sign the Order for Self Quarantine and are free to leave to collect their luggage and check in for their flight. They have access to their luggage once they are processed.
On why Hawaii wouldn't allow the family to take a COVID-19 test in Hawaii after their long flight, or why wasn't Hawaii willing to work with the family to figure this out?
The State of Hawai'i Safe Travels Hawai'i program is a multilayered process designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our community from trans-Pacific visitor and resident passengers arriving at airports/ports across the Islands. Requiring the negative test results prior to boarding a flight for Hawaiʻi prevents exposure to others on the plane and minimizes positive cases from entering the state. Allowing the option to test after arriving does not meet these objectives.
To share some perspective, on the date of this family's travel, Hawaiʻi welcomed 8,484 travelers. Of those, 7,514 successfully opted to meet all conditions to be exempt from quarantine and enjoyed their time in Hawaiʻi. Of those travelers, 2,988 were returning residents, many of whom opted to accept the quarantine restrictions. Very few travelers chose to return home that day.
Hawaiʻi does not restrict entry to the state, and our team does assist our visitors in making their own choices during the pandemic. We all hope that Hawaiʻi can soon return to offering an unhindered visitor experience. We do hope the Casey toddler and the entire family are healthy and well.
We don't have any record of the family having reached out to us to request a refund. Our information shows the family canceled their originally scheduled return travel and used those funds for a Southwest trip from San Francisco to Chicago the day after their arrival in Hawaii. With our low fares and no change fee as brand-standard Southwest policies for 50-years, last-minute changes such as these are both affordable and easy. The State of Hawaii requirements are prominently shared multiple times for every Customer who travels Hawaii-bound with Southwest—from their initial research and purchase on Southwest.com, to pre-trip email communication offering resources specific to their destination and sent multiple times ahead of travel, to the online and airport check-in processes, and in airport boarding announcements. Updated travel information also is aggregated in our online hub for local travel restrictions in the pandemic: Southwest.com/coronavirus/Hawaii [southwest.com].
Our heart goes out to this family, we hope never to hear that a Southwest Customer experienced a disruption in their travel. In addition to our long-standing flexible policies I shared, we're always open to additional conversation to work directly with our Customers. In this case, we'd be happy to refund the approximately $30 per person additional fare collection for the Southwest portion of their journey home.
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 to properly access the sites that provide the type of test that meets the state's requirements cvs.com/selfpaytesting. This option allow travelers to self-pay for their test since COVID testing that is for travel or leisure purposes is not typically covered by insurance.
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 2-3 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.
This story was originally published by Kristin Byrne on TMJ4 in Milwaukee.