Hawaii reported 485 new coronavirus cases on Saturday as hospitals raised concerns about their capacity to deal with an influx of patients due to the latest spike in infections.

The state has faced two weeks of triple-digit case counts, which health officials say are driven by the highly contagious delta variant and are largely affecting unvaccinated people.

Gov. David Ige has warned that he may need to reimpose COVID-19 restrictions if the rapid rise continues, saying he is closely watching hospitalizations due to the respiratory virus.

Registered Nurse from Kalihi Palama Health Center Alexis Lagasca gives Helmer Emos the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at St. Elizabeth Church.
Hawaii health officials are urging people to get vaccinated as the number of coronavirus cases spikes due to the highly contagious delta variant. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“I can assure you, at the point that I believe the hospitals have more patients than they would be able to handle, then we would take specific action to restrict movements again as necessary,” Ige said Friday at a press conference.

Hospitals already have seen a sharp increase in patients as the number of active cases reached 2,996 on Saturday.

CORONAVIRUS IN HAWAII

The Hilo Medical Center implemented a no-visitor policy for its emergency department Saturday after experiencing a rush of COVID-19 patients overnight, with hospitalizations doubling from six to 12. The hospital said none of the new patients had been vaccinated.

“The hospital, which has been very busy the past few months, is nearing full capacity with limited beds available,” it said in a press release. “We are seeing a large spike of patients needing testing, examination and treatment for COVID.”

Exceptions to the no-visitor policy include pediatric patients 18 years and younger and “highly critical, end-of-life situations,” it said. Regular visiting hours remain for in-patient visitors, but the hospital said it is assessing the need to change those as well.

The Queen’s Health Systems also said Friday that it has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to send reinforcements for nurses amid the surge in cases.

Queen’s said it has 45 COVID-19 patients, including eight on ventilators. Most of those patients are unvaccinated and in their early 40s, Hawaii News Now reported.

Queen’s Medical Center President Jason C. Chang speaks to media about recent surge in COVID-19 cases. July 30, 2021
The Queen’s Health Systems chief operating officer Jason Chang says hospitals need reinforcements for exhausted front-line workers. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

“Our staff have been working tirelessly, day and night, for over a year and a half now,” said Jason Chang, president of The Queen’s Medical Center. “They’re upbeat, but they’re tired. And so we want to make sure that they get relief.”

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency says that hospitals across the state are at about 60% ICU bed capacity with hundreds of ventilators still available.

However, Hilton Raethel, president of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, cautioned that the numbers are not an accurate reflection of hospital capacity because they don’t account for staff shortages and exhaustion among front-line workers.

Saturday’s tally was the second-highest since the pandemic began in March 2020. The highest — 622 — was recorded Friday, but it included earlier cases from lab reporting delays.

On Saturday, the new cases included 315 on Oahu, 101 on Hawaii island, nine on Kauai, 42 on Maui and 18 residents out of state.

Hawaii’s total rose to 42,410, with 537 deaths. The seven-day positivity rate jumped to 5.5%, according to the health department.

Civil Beat reporter Lauren Teruya contributed to this report.

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