As the cold weather makes its way into the Lower Mainland, many locals are dreaming of surf, sand and fun in the sun.
That said, there are myriad reasons why you should think twice before booking your next ticket to paradise - especially if that destination is Hawaii.
On Sept. 16, Hawaiian Governor David Ige declared that the state’s pre-travel testing program will launch on Oct. 15, which will allow trans-Pacific travellers to visit the island state without quarantining upon arrival. They need to get the test before their arrival and show proof of a negative test no more than 72 hours in advance of travel.
The announcement sounded like fantastic news for British Columbians who were jonesing for the tropics, but it turns out that the devil is in the details.
While several travel clinics in Vancouver will test prospective travellers for COVID-19, these clinics do not meet the requirements for the Hawaiian pre-testing program, despite offering the PCR NAAT test - a highly-accurate viral (nucleic acid) test.
PCR is the gold standard used in Canada and abroad to diagnose active COVID-19 infection in patients with symptoms, but Hawaii isn't currently recognizing testing facilities that fall outside of its approved "trusted travel partners." Hawaii's test is also a NAAT test, but it is Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) approved in the United States.
Hawaii's approved travel partners include the following: AFC Urgent Care, Carbon Health, CityHealth Urgent Care, Color, CVS Health, Discovery Health MD, Hawaiian Airlines, Kaiser Permanente (for members only), Quest Diagnostics, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and Vault Health Walgreens.
United Airlines is currently offering flights to Honolulu in the U.S., but a spokesperson with the airline told Vancouver Is Awesome in an email to refer testing enquiries regarding travel from Canada to the Hawaiian government.
Marisa Yamane, Director of Communications with Hawaii Tourism, tells V.I.A. in an email that "Currently no Canadian labs/companies are on the state’s list of approved trusted travel partners (companies that sign a legal agreement with the state)."
Testing at Home
Health Canada does not advise you to get a COVID-19 test if you do not have symptoms of the virus. Since a negative result is required for the Hawaiian pre-testing program, this would go against public health advice.
Despite this, some clinics in the Lower Mainland will test asymptomatic groups and individuals for the purpose of travel. However, most of them say they only advise people to travel if it is for repatriation, business or other essential purposes. In other words, not for kicking back on a glistening white sand beach.
Penny Gleave is a consultant and registered nurse at TravelSafe Immunization Clinic in Kitsilano. TravelSafe is a full-service one-stop travel clinic that provides vaccines, prescriptions and comprehensive health advice to travellers bound for international destinations. She tells V.I.A. in a phone interview that the clinic will offer laboratory results for COVID-19 testing within 48 to 72 hours from when the specimens arrive at the lab. That said, they do not advise that people get tested to go on a tropical vacation.
"The thing about travel right now is it's not easy. We have clients in our clinic who have had to rebook their flights again three times," explains Gleave. "Flying is a risk."
In addition to the risks associated with flying, Gleave says people won't have the same type of holiday experience in tropical destinations right now: "It won't be all those people and those festivities you have in mind. Things are different. And if you do get sick, the health care in other countries may not be up to standard. You may also not be able to get home."
So far, Gleave says that every country has accepted the lab results from TravelSafe's clinic. The cost of a test is $295.
Other clinics that the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) has approved for travel testing include the following:
- Integrated Wellness Medical Centre (Tri-Cities)
- YVR Medical Clinic
- Ultima Medical
- Travel Medicine & Vaccination Centre
- Iridia Medical
V.I.A. reached out to YVR Medical Clinic numerous times but was unable to speak to someone. The clinic is located on Level 1 of the Domestic Terminal Building in Vancouver Airport. For Canadian Residents, the cost of the test is $215 plus GST ($65 for the test and $150 lab fees). For Non-Residents, the cost of the test is $300 plus GST (this reflects the additional liability insurance component for these tests).
While Iridia Medical is included on the BCCDC's list, the clinic notes on its website that it is currently unable to take any additional bookings at this time. Prospective customers may refer back to Iridia Medical's webpage at a later date to seek bookings.
Vancouver Coastal Health states on its travel page that COVID-19 testing for people without symptoms is not publicly funded for the purpose of travel, work or school and will not be provided at COVID-19 Assessment Centres. Also, testing is not recommended for individuals without symptoms.
Under a measure from the Government of British Columbia, all arriving passengers from outside Canada, regardless of their final destination, are required to submit a self-isolation plan. Learn more about the Province's self-isolation plan requirement here. The plan can be submitted online here or at the Self-Assessment Tool, through the BC COVID-19 Support App, or in-person on arrival at YVR. It must show that returning passengers have supports in place to safely self-isolate for 14 days.
V.I.A. has also reached out to Air Canada for comment.