Hawaii reported that 328 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 on Monday, a worrisome uptick reflecting the omicron variant’s widespread community transmission.

The coronavirus variant is infecting far more people in Hawaii than previous variants but appears to cause less severe symptoms compared with delta and the original virus. Still, hundreds of people — most of them unvaccinated — are getting sick enough from Covid to need hospital care.

The daily numbers remain well below the peak of 448 during the delta surge that occurred in the fall. But Hawaii leaders are closely watching the increase amid concerns that the state’s health care system is being overwhelmed, especially since medical personnel are among those being infected.

The state has requested funding for hundreds of extra medical workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said that about 10% of Covid hospitalizations during this omicron surge involve patients in the intensive care unit, compared with about 20% during the delta surge.

Green said Hawaii’s coronavirus data indicates patients who caught delta were 5.5 times more likely to be hospitalized than patients who are catching omicron. The number of patients dying from the virus also is far lower this time around, with a 0.8% fatality rate.

Medical technicians collect COVID-19 nose swab samples from people lined up in their cars, around the block, at the Blaisdell drive-through testing site in Honolulu, Monday, December 27, 2021. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)
Hawaii is seeing a worrisome rise in the number of people hospitalized for Covid-19 as the omicron variant spreads rapidly through the state. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2021

Green noted that between 30 to 35 of Covid hospitalizations reported Monday were incidental, meaning patients were hospitalized for reasons other than coronavirus and happened to test positive in the hospital.

The actual number of individuals who are hospitalized for Covid is 291,” Green said.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi has said he prefers to rely on hospitalization counts to determine whether to tighten restrictions, which so far have been limited to a 50% capacity rule for indoor events with at least 1,000 attendees.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige on Monday stood by his decision to allow county mayors to determine Covid rules and restrictions during an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight” program.

He said he would be willing to step in and issue a statewide order if necessary but noted that hospitalizations lagged behind high case counts, with the seven-day average exceeding 3,000 per day.

Green said 115 of the 291 patients hospitalized because of Covid were vaccinated, but the vast majority had not received a booster shot.

Unvaccinated people are still the most likely to die or be hospitalized for Covid compared with vaccinated people.

“It’s pretty clear that you don’t have much immunity from Covid if you haven’t been boosted,” Green said.

No one who has been boosted has thus far ended up in an intensive care unit in Hawaii, Green said.

Hawaii health officials have been urging people to get their booster shots since the beginning of December. Adults who received their second Pfizer shot at least five months ago are eligible for a third shot.

Those who received their second Moderna shot at least six months ago are eligible, and those who received their Johnson & Johnson shot at least two months ago are eligible for a booster.

Hawaii has a vaccination rate of 74.8%, but fewer than 400,000 of the state’s population of about 1.4 million have received third shots. Children aged 12-17 only recently became eligible for boosters.

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