Hawaii marked the end of a week of state record-breaking COVID-19 daily case counts on Sunday, reporting 452 new infections and a seven-day positivity rate of 5.7%.

The surge in coronavirus cases driven by the highly contagious delta variant has prompted officials to warn they may need to reimpose restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the respiratory disease.

Public schools also are due to officially begin the new year this week, raising concerns about more than 200,000 children who are under 12 years old and not yet eligible to get vaccinated.

Pharmacist Davis Zheng fills syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. January 5, 2021
Officials are pleading with people to get vaccinated amid a surge in new COVID-19 cases driven by a highly contagious variant. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The new cases reported Sunday included 276 on Oahu, 99 on the Big Island, 66 on Maui, six on Kauai and five residents diagnosed outside of the state, according to the health department.

That was the third-highest daily count since the pandemic began in March 2020, following 485 on Saturday and 622 on Friday. The 622 included earlier cases from lab reporting delays. The seven-day positivity rate soared to 5.7%.

The state’s total rose to 42,862, with 537 deaths. Officials said 3,298 cases were considered still active and some hospitals warned they were nearing full capacity especially considering their exhausted employees who have been on the front lines for nearly a year and a half.

“This has been the highest week of cases in the whole pandemic so that does give me great concern, and most of the spread has been community spread,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green, an emergency room doctor on Hawaii island.

He said measures being discussed to try to slow the spread of the virus include reimposing restrictions as well as incentives and vaccine mandates that would require state employees to either get inoculated or face weekly testing.

“I highly expect several of the mayors will propose significant increases in restrictions this week due to the increases in cases,” he said, adding that may include increasing limits on the sizes of gatherings and strengthening mask mandates.

Back-To-School Concerns

Maui Mayor Mike Victorino said he was asking the state to postpone the return to classroom learning, with classes scheduled to officially begin on Tuesday.

“Even though our vaccination rate in Hawaii is fairly good compared to other states, the Neighbor Islands have limited hospitals and critical care facilities,” Victorino said in a press release. “Our healthcare facilities are already being challenged by the recent surge of infections, so I believe it is wiser to err on the side of caution.”

Victorino noted that it’s rare for children to become seriously ill or die from COVID-19 but said it was not worth the risk.

“Distance learning is not new for Hawaii’s students and teachers, and while it’s not ideal, it’s preferable to a potential surge in Delta pediatric cases,” he said.

Most of the recent cases have been blamed on community spread, but Green said they also included a large number of unvaccinated residents returning from travels out of state and declining to be tested as part of the Safe Travels program.

“What that tells us is that a large percentage of our residents that were coming back from a vacation or back from visiting family were unvaccinated and chose to not pre-test. They simply went into quarantine and that led to spread because they caught the delta variant.”

People who can prove they are vaccinated are exempt from the testing and quarantine requirements for travelers to Hawaii.

Green said he sees no reason to change that, but he has recommended providing “some ability to test our unvaccinated residents after they return.”

Hawaii’s vaccination rate has reached 60.1%.

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