Denby Fawcett: Don't Keep Us In The Dark About The Current Covid Surge - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Opinion article badgeI was surprised to hear state Department of Health Director Libby Char on Hawaii Public Radio say that the most recent numbers for coronavirus infections are grossly underreported and they actually should be five or 10 times higher.

She said that’s because many people are giving themselves rapid antigen tests at home and their positive results for infection are not included in the department’s official tally.

If Char is right, it means the latest official reported average of 925 new cases a day, when multiplied by five, could more realistically mean 4,000-5,000 new cases a day.

“It’s widespread. It’s everywhere,” Char said in her interview with HPR’s Catherine Cruz.

That’s alarming enough to get anyone’s attention. But since the health department now reports Covid-19 statistics only every week instead of every day, the hard-core reality of what’s happening is softened by the slower reporting of the facts.

Epidemiologist Dr. Tim Brown says a daily reporting of pandemic data is needed as a direct way to wake up people to the current spread.

“It is unfair to leave people on their own without enough information to gauge their risk,” Brown said.

Brown is an infectious disease expert and senior fellow at the East-West Center.

The state ended its daily data reports on the pandemic in March.

But a return to daily reporting is unlikely to happen — at least not now. In an email Friday, health department spokesman Brooks Baehr said, “There are no plans to go back to daily reporting. We have always based our response, guidance, and recommendations on trends rather than daily data.”

The problem with weekly reporting is the trends do not emerge as quickly, leaving the public deprived of information it needs to make reasoned decisions about masking and other ways to protect themselves from contagion.

Epidemiologist Brown says, “Keeping the public in the dark means the rest of the requirements for living with Covid will not be met and that Covid mortality will remain unacceptably high.”

Today, people are less alarmed by the pandemic for a variety of reasons, including widespread vaccinations, availability of home tests, better masks and a general weariness after more than two years of living with Covid-19. And because reports that the new subvariants of omicron — although highly transmissible — are less lethal.

Also, it’s because of what Brown criticizes as “this strong desire on the part of all aspects of government to act like Covid is no longer among us and is now just like the flu” – reasoning he calls “shortsighted and wrong.”

He says: “The current caseload shows we are clearly still in a serious epidemic situation and the mortality rate is still far, far too high — much, much higher than flu in even its worst years.”

And the rate of positive tests for Covid-19 now is higher than it has been throughout the entire pandemic except for the omicron surge at the beginning of this year. Kauai, in fact, has surpassed the record number. That is according to an email Monday from the Hawaii Pandemic Applied Modeling Work Group at the University of Hawaii Manoa.

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)
Just because people aren’t paying as much attention to Covid-19 doesn’t mean it’s not spreading. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2021

Still, many people are crowding restaurants and bars and attending large social events, maskless, seemingly oblivious to the danger of possible infection in this newest wave of the pandemic. As they crowd close together, they seem to have thrown caution to the wind.

Dr. Jonathan Dworkin also favors daily case reporting as a way of bringing attention to the issues: “It would help people become aware of the trends more quickly.”

Dworkin is a clinical infectious disease doctor at The Queen’s Health Systems North Hawaii Community Hospital.

He says even more important than resuming the daily reporting of Covid data is the need for a clearly stated threshold based on objective criteria to let the public know when masking and other mandates will need to be reinstated.

“The more objective the threshold is, the less political it becomes,” he says.

He says the threshold should be based on factors such as the number of Covid infections, hospitalizations and deaths as well as how caseload numbers are affecting medical providers’ ability to care for Covid-stricken patients as well as those suffering from other illnesses.

If large numbers of health care workers are staying home with Covid, it puts everyone at risk.

Clear-cut guidelines agreed upon in advance would prevent situations like in the early days of the pandemic in Hawaii when politicians argued in public about the most reasonable way forward.

Former Mayor Kirk Caldwell in September 2020 instituted a four-tier framework for reopening Oahu.

Dworkin says a threshold today would also use objective criteria but be more direct and based on fewer factors.

Although well meaning, the four-tier framework was elaborate and confusing. Dworkin says a much more straightforward threshold is needed now.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put Honolulu and Maui counties on red high-risk alert for Covid-19. Kauai was already on that status.

Everybody knows somebody who has Covid.

For high-risk areas, the CDC recommends masking indoors and on all public transportation.

In her interview on HPR, Char says it is time for people to think about ordering takeout food at restaurants instead of eating there.

She recommends a return to wearing masks indoors and outdoors when in the middle of large crowds.

Many of my friends recently have come down with Covid and other friends tell me about one or another of their friends who has gotten sick. Everybody knows somebody who has Covid.

So give us timely daily information. Don’t keep us in the dark.

And give us a concrete sense of what would make the new surge serious enough to require mandates again.

Read this next:

Chad Blair: Mask Fury Erupts At The Hawaii Board Of Education Meeting

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About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Latest Comments (0)

The media still relies on the same opinions of folks like Tim Brown as the holy grail of covid facts. The people are numb to case load counts, they where back when that was the opening line on every nightly news cast. That's the media and state's fault for doing so. We have vaccinations and antiviral drugs and everyone knows the risks. If you want to be cautious stay masked and better yet stay home. Simple. Covid is going around like a highly contagious flu and even the vaccinated are getting and spreading it. Heard immunity will finally be reached and as a society we will move forward with less fear. The relevant facts that should be broadcast and shared are the details of who is seriously ill anymore, what are their co-morbidities and health conditions, ages, etc. There is little blanket fear for most people anymore. It's time to move forward, not back.

wailani1961 · 8 months ago

Communication is the key. report real nos. (x5) daily and more people will wear masks. hire temps to resume daily count with the huge surplus the SOH has. see covid nos. in asian countries where mask wearing is universal.

442TXrescue · 8 months ago

I hate to say it but it is not if its when we will shutdown again. We have summer coming tourist just decided Hawaii is the it place and they've been coming in droves. Then factor in amongst those are those that never gotten vaccinated, so that adds to it. I think once hospitals are overwhelmed we will shutdown, but i fear by then it is to little to late. I continue to mask, I have my personal reasons but I think many still have a very dismissive attitude in regards to Covid and the seriousness it poses. I personally and I sure many other residents would love to see Hawaii get closed to tourist again with really strict programs like safe travels again.

KT96817 · 8 months ago

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