Hawaii officials urged residents to avoid crowds and wear masks indoors as state Covid-19 numbers surged Friday, driven by widespread community transmission of the delta and omicron variants.
The state reported 797 new coronavirus cases Friday, more than double the previous day. Daily Covid case counts haven’t exceeded 700 since September when Hawaii grappled with the delta surge.
“We are seeing an alarming increase,” Gov. David Ige said during a press conference Friday.
Libby Char, head of the Hawaii Department of Health, urged eligible Hawaii residents to get booster shots. More than 73% of Hawaii residents are vaccinated against Covid but just over 304,000 third doses have been administered out of a population of more than 1.4 million.
“We’re seeing more and more breakthrough cases of people who have had two shots,” Char said. On Thursday, 11 out of 40 Covid hospitalizations were among people who were fully vaccinated.
People who are unvaccinated are still most at risk from Covid and far more likely to be hospitalized and die, but the data underscores the importance of getting booster shots even if you are vaccinated.
Covid cases on Oahu are up 374% over the past 14 days, where the surge is concentrated with a 5.4% positivity rate. Hawaii also reported two more deaths.
“Get your vaccine, get boosted,” Char said. “Wear your mask indoors and avoid really crowded places.”
Just 2% of Hawaii’s cases were the omicron variant as of the state’s Wednesday variant report, which pulled data from Dec. 4. But Char said on Thursday, the state confirmed 31 cases of the omicron variant and noted there are 17 more suspected omicron cases undergoing sequencing Friday.
“For us in Hawaii, certainly if we continue on this trend, I think very early into next year I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the dominant variant,” Char said.
Char asked Hawaii families to make plans for where and how they’ll isolate if they test positive and urged them to hold any holiday gatherings outdoors.
The health department announced Thursday evening that the agency would stop providing isolation and quarantine units for people sick with Covid. Char said Friday that the state is shifting the responsibility for providing such units to the counties.
Hilton Raethel, head of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, which represents Hawaii hospitals, said that there were only 41 Covid hospitalizations Friday but he expected that to rise by Christmas.
That’s because hospitalizations are what’s called a “lagging indicator” — it takes several days after case counts rise for patients to get so sick that they’re hospitalized.
But once they start to rise, they could multiply quickly. During the delta surge, “we went from 100 to 300 Covid hospitalizations in just 20 days and then continued to increase and went up over 400,” Raethel said.
“You get this slower ramp up and then it just takes off very, very quickly,” he said. Even if omicron is less lethal than delta, because it’s more transmissible it could infect a greater number and still send more people to the hospital.
The Hawaii National Guard issued a press release Friday canceling a ceremony about a planned drawdown of the Hawaii National Guard Joint Task Force.
“The decision to cancel the ceremony and to reestablish the HING JTF was made by Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, the adjutant general for the State of Hawaii as the number of COVID-19 cases rise and in anticipation of support that will be needed for testing, contact tracing, and vaccinations,” the press release said.
Gov. David Ige said he’s not planning to make any changes to the state’s Safe Travel Program, such as requiring people flying into the state to have boosters.
He said part of his reasoning is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still considers people who received two doses of the mRNA vaccines to be fully vaccinated. Another factor is that visitors continue to make up a relatively small percentage of Covid cases.
The CDC issued a new recommendation Friday advising people to get the mRNA booster shots — Pfizer or Moderna — over the Johnson & Johnson booster shots.
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