DOH Asks Hawai‘i Public to “Prepare like you would for a hurricane or natural disaster”
August 13, 2021, 2:38 PM HST
* Updated August 16, 5:23 AM
Health Officials: Crisis Reached. Have a Plan.
State Health officials today said the current health crisis involving the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant in Hawai‘i “will not change until we do.”
In addition to ongoing messages to wear a mask indoors, keep your distance, get tested, stay home if you’re sick and get vaccinated, State health Director Dr. Libby Char added another message to the mix:
“Where would you isolate if you test positive? Who will help take care of your family members or your kids if you’re sick? Who will help you get groceries? Think about this. Make your plan now. Make agreements with your friends and neighbors, especially those who are vaccinated. And you should get vaccinated too, so that you can help when they need you,” said Dr. Char.
She pointed to data including today’s record 1,167 cases, which includes all cases from the regular 24-hour reporting cycle that ended at 11:59 pm Wednesday and the remainder of the cases not reported earlier in the week when the electronic lab reporting system experienced an interruption in service.
The Department of Health has reported over 2,000 cases over the past three days. That means, regardless of the interruption in data, an average of 729 new COVID infections, each day over the last three days.
“We continue to trend in the wrong direction,” said Governor David Ige during a press briefing on Friday morning. “Our hospitals are filling up. They are treating younger and younger people. Yesterday, tragically, we reported a death of a man in his 30s,” he said.
According to Dr. Char, in the month of July there were 22 clusters identified, compared to 45 clusters involving 733 people in the first 10 days of August alone.
“Our hospitals are full and we are at risk. With over 7,000 active cases in Hawaiʻi, this virus is impacting every facet of our lives, including our ability to respond. The Department of Health is a finite resource, just like any hospital or health care system. We’re acting to protect the most vulnerable in our community and those most at risk for spreading COVID,” said Dr. Char.
With space dwindling at hospitals, staff shortages, and 290 people hospitalized as of today in Hawaiʻi, state health officials agree that the current situation is a crisis.
“We are there. We are on fire,” said Dr. Char. “When we have hospitals that are really worried about being able to take care of people, that is a crisis. When we see this exponential growth in the amount of people that are getting infected with COVID everyday–2,000 people in the past three days–that is a crisis. And at the point at which we overwhelm our resources, that’s a disaster, and that’s where we’re heading, and we’re trying really hard not to get there and that’s why we’re trying to work with the hospitals.”
Dr. Char said it’s not just about COVID patients in the hospital. “If the hospital is so consumed with taking care of patients with COVID, it means that there is less resource to take care of other patients,” she said.
Infectious Asked to Help with Close Contact Notifications, Testing Ramps Up
With more than 7,000 active infections in Hawaiʻi, the DOH is prioritizing case investigations.
“We cannot be everything to everyone,” said Dr. Char. “Our more than 2,000 staff are working around the clock but 2,000 people cannot stop this surge alone.”
She explained that if each of the 7,000 active cases came into contact with 10 people, that would be 70,000 close contacts. “So obviously, there’s no way that we’re going to contact 70,000 people one at a time; but we will try and contact every one of the 7,000 that have COVID and we will provide guidance and we will let you know what you need to do. Please don’t yell or scream at us when we call you and please share the information that we request. We’re only trying to help you and your loved ones. We’ll probably ask you to help notify those with whom you had contact,” she said.
According to Dr. Char, testing is one of our the department’s foremost priorities right now. “We know that there’s a lot of anxiety and with all of these cases of COVID and people who have been exposed, I know that there’s a great demand for testing, so we are putting a ton of energy into ramping up testing. We have free testing on every island and what we’re doing is trying to parallel what we did for vaccines,” said Dr. Char.
The state is partnering with federal agencies to offer testing through local pharmacies and is in the process of expanding that program. According to Dr. Char, there’s also pop-up testing and school programs with kits that go directly to schools and onsite testing as well at select locations.
“About July we were seeing maybe 1,000-2,000 tests a day,” said Dr. Char. “Right now we’re doing closer to 8,000-10,000 tests per day. So you can see that huge increase, and we are ramping up to meet that need.”
DOH: People are Getting Sicker, Faster with Delta Variant
The arrival and spread of the Delta variant in Hawaiʻi has changed the speed and response landscape. According to state data, the Delta variant now accounts for over 80% of cases right now in Hawaiʻi.
“It used to be that if you were fully vaccinated, you could do just about anything. With the Delta variant being so pervasive, the fight has changed,” said Dr. Char.
According to Dr. Char, it used to be that somewhere between three and seven days, infected individuals would start showing sickness. Now it’s three to five days with a peak of 3.71 days. “So people are spreading much more virus and they’re spreading it much sooner, and that’s also making it very challenging,” said Dr. Char.
“Even if you are fully vaccinated, if you are sitting in proximity to someone with COVID, having lunch or having a drink, you’re being bombarded by virus and you have a real chance that that could overwhelm your system and you could become infected,” she said.
“The vaccine is still very, very good at what it is designed to do, which is prevent severe illness, to prevent hospitalization, and to prevent death. You don’t have the armor that we once thought that we had with vaccination, and so we have to be thoughtful about our actions,” said Dr. Char.
State is Evaluating Changes to the Safe Travels Program;
Visitor vs Residential Travel Data Explained
State officials say they are evaluating potential changes to the Safe Travels program and looking at “appropriate changes as necessary.”
Gov. Ige maintains that current data shows about 10-12% of cases that are travel related, only 1-2% is by visitors traveling. He said the “overwhelming majority of the cases tied to travel is with residents traveling and getting infected and returning to the islands.”
“The policies and procedures that we have in place is about balancing, getting our economy restarted and getting people back to work. At the same time, keeping our community healthy and safe. So we do evaluate the data that we see and we are considering changes to [the] Safe Travels [program] as we move forward,” said Gov. David Ige.
In response to Maui Now’s questions about a potential undercount among travelers chose not to not test for fear they could ruin their vacations, Gov. Ige and Dr. Char responded:
“We do know that testing in general only reaches a certain percentage, whether it’s residents or travelers, so the case counts that we report, we know are actually an under-sampling of those truly infected in our community–travelers just like residents. So our strategy is to make the testing widely available so that once someone becomes symptomatic, or believes they’ve been exposed, they can get the test and so we can identify whether they are infected and so we can take appropriate action,” said Gov. Ige.
“With regards to the question about–are undercounting travelers that are arriving or that subsequently become sick, yeah, probably we are. If they are not testing then it makes it really difficult to identify those people,” said Dr. Char.
“The reason that we care so much about the residents returning is that for the most part, the visitors are staying to themselves and doing certain activities–going to the beach or going sightseeing. When residents come back, it’s much more concerning because they’re mingling with their families, they’re going to visit their neighbors or their relatives, they’re going back to work. That’s why it’s so much more significant. Because if a resident returns home and they’re sick, they can spread it to many, many more people, and that’s what we’re seeing with the percentages of travel related cases,” said Dr. Char.
What is the Projection for Hawaiʻi’s Peak Rate of Infection?
In response to our question about the projected peak rate of infection, Dr. Char said:
“What we trend and track on the mainland usually hits us a couple of weeks later, and there are certain states on the mainland that are just on fire right now,” said Dr. Char. “We’re not doing so well either. I don’t know when it will peak–I’ll have to ask the data folks and the file statisticians with more information like that, but honestly, I think it’s really related to more of what we do.”
“Essentially, if we locked ourselves down right now, I guarantee you that our numbers would come down. So, it really depends on what behavior we choose to undertake as to what happens to our trajectory,” said Dr. Char.
2nd Demonstration This Week Attracts Hundreds in Wailuku Seeking Medical Freedom Amid Vaccine Mandates
For the second time this week, hundreds of people gathered for a demonstration in Wailuku advocating for medical freedoms amid vaccination mandates.
For those claiming the right to gather, Maui Now asked Gov. Ige if demonstrators face the same physical distancing guidelines as the general public, or if they have similar protections like those attending church services.
“We certainly would encourage them to maintain physical distancing,” said Gov. Ige. “The CDC guidelines make it clear that wearing masks and physical distancing are two of the most effective ways to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
“If I could talk with the organizers of the protest, I would certainly encourage them to ensure that they maintain physical distance, that they wear their masks, even though they are outdoors, because they are gathering in the numbers that they are. I certainly would encourage them to wear their masks,” said Gov. Ige.
Maui police tell us there were no arrests or citations issued today at this morning’s demonstration, and a department spokesperson said “there were no issues as well.”
Governor Ige: “We can and must turn this around.”
“Our heroes in healthcare on the frontlines battling COVID, again are being asked to save us,” said Gov. David Ige. “It is unfair. Unfair because we all can save ourselves. Our behavior can save us. The actions we take each and every day can make a difference in the battle against COVID. The choices we make can save us, and we can and must turn this around.”
Gov. Ige continued saying, “We must change our behavior and take action.” He continued to urge those who are unvaccinated to get vaccinated saying, “It is the best thing that you can do to help yourself and help our community.”
He also said that even those who are vaccinated must do more. “We all must continue to wear our masks; we must practice physical distancing whenever possible; we must avoid crowds and social gatherings; and we have got to stay home when sick or think we may have been exposed to COVID. It’s really important for those vaccinated to also take precautions.”
Gov. Ige said that while the mitigation measures are the same, a shift in mindset is needed. “None of this is new. We’ve all been doing this for more than a year and a half now, but never has it been more important Than it is now. We cannot continue to behave the way we have been behaving over the last several weeks and expect a different result,” he said.
“Let’s remember the things that we did early on during this pandemic that helped to slow the spread of COVID-19. Those same actions–stay home when you’re sick; keep your children home when they’re sick; avoid gatherings; wear your masks; wash your hands; sanitize–all these simple actions make a difference in the fight against COVID. So I ask you to please be part of the solution,” said Gov. Ige.