Hawaii’s hospitals are seeing some relief after being pushed to the brink of crisis due to an influx of Covid-19 patients, but it’s too soon to say that the surge in cases driven by the aggressive delta variant has peaked, the head of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii said Thursday. 

Hilton Raethel welcomed a dip in the state’s daily coronavirus count this week but noted the lower numbers may be temporary. Hawaii reported 429 new cases and seven more coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday. The seven-day average was just over 617 cases per day.

“There’s two possibilities here. One, this dip we’re experiencing and it’s a relatively small dip, could be an inflection point and then will go up again based on the infection rates last week and maybe some community spread over the Labor Day weekend,” he said during a Civil Beat-sponsored update on the coronavirus forecast. “The alternative is that … we have reached the impacts of this curve and that the numbers will go down.”

Clockwise Civil Beat reporter Brittany Lyte; Monique Chyba, member of HiPAM; Civil Beat reporter Anita Hofschneider; and Hilton Raethel, president of the the Healthcare Association of Hawaii. Screenshot

He also said that Hawaii had resolved an oxygen shortage. Hawaii News Now reported that some hospitals were rationing oxygen as they were overwhelmed with a large number of Covid patients combined with non-Covid patients. With daily case counts surpassing 1,000, the state also brought in nurses and other medical staff from the mainland as reinforcements.

The number of Covid-19 hospitalizations was 398 on Thursday, dropping below 400 for the first time in about two weeks.

However, Raethel said health officials were still preparing for an increase in hospitalization rates because of predictions that Covid-19 cases would increase in September.

“We are prepared, we have done a lot of work and we’ve brought a lot of staff into the state to support our hospitals,” Raethel said. “So we do have capacity in our hospitals even though that’s stretched.” 

Monique Chyba of the Hawaii Pandemic Applied Modeling Group agreed that it wasn’t yet clear where data trends were headed despite the lower numbers in recent days.

“Does that mean we’re on a decreasing slope? It’s possible,” she said. “At the same time testing has trended down and we’re testing less. We’re also testing people that don’t necessarily come from contact tracing because now either you have to be vaccinated or tested in specific conditions. All of this together makes it unclear what will happen in the next few days.”

The new cases reported Thursday increased the total number of infections to 69,573 since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. Oahu had 273, Maui had 63, Hawaii island had 52, Kauai had 33 and eight residents were diagnosed out of state. The death toll rose to 633.

Currently, 64.8% of the state population is fully vaccinated, while the test positivity rate is 7.1%.

When asked about what the model forecast will look like in the near future, Chyba said it fluctuates. 

“I wish I could assert a little better where we’re heading. There’s so much fluctuation right now.”

She added that there is a lag in daily cases and the state is about 10 days to two weeks behind in hospitalization trends for Oahu. 

Another notable topic in the discussion was concern about delays in elective procedures unrelated to Covid. Civil Beat reported that hospitals have delayed non-emergency procedures with one cancer patient who struggled to book an appointment to remove a cancerous breast.

Raethel said he was surprised to hear a cancer patient’s surgery was postponed.

“Even though that is not life-threatening in the instant, it could be life threatening long term,” he said. “Generally we could not delay any cancer screening or cancer surgeries.”

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