Hawai‘i’s COVID-19 Surge Explained: Highest Cases in More Than Three Months
December 17, 2021, 1:34 PM HST
* Updated December 19, 7:05 AM
The state is reporting a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in Hawaiʻi, including 797 new cases reported today, mostly on Oʻahu. This represents the highest case count in more than three months.
State Health officials say the surge includes a mix of the Delta and Omicron variants. To date, the DOH has confirmed 31 Omicron cases in Hawaiʻi, all on Oʻahu; and another 17 cases are under investigation. State Health Director, Dr. Elizabeth Char, FACEP said she believes all the pending Omicron cases are on Oʻahu, with no confirmed presence on the neighbor islands to date.
“COVID is surging worldwide and across the United States,” said Dr. Char. “We’re seeing more and more Omicron variant… These numbers reflect a disturbing trend. The Delta variant, the Omicron variant, large gatherings, increased travel and holiday get-togethers appear to be fueling the surge.”
State health officials say they believe it’s inevitable, at some point we’re going to see Omicron cases on the neighbor islands, but right now it seems to be limited to Oʻahu. In terms of hospitalizations, Dr. Char said, “I think all the health care associations and their member hospitals are all very aware of this. They’re asking questions and they’re trying to be really proactive and step up, and make sure that they are ready and they are prepared if we see increased cases in the hospital.”
Although Maui County has the state’s lowest positivity rate at 1.9% over the past 7 days, Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said, “it’s just a matter of time before Omicron makes its way here.”
“I want everyone to enjoy a happy, healthy holiday season so please continue masking up indoors, keep your distance from others, avoid gatherings among different households and wash your hands frequently. Most importantly, please get vaccinated,” Mayor Victorino said. “I have no plans for additional restrictions at this time, but that will change if our medical facilities are being taxed.”
When asked about Omicron projections based on data out of South Africa and the UK, Dr. Char said she was a bit cautious about drawing conclusions for Hawaiʻi.
“We are at 5% Omicron for Oʻahu, and if you look at state numbers overall we’re at 2%; but that was for samples as of Dec. 4… So I would imagine that if we follow the trend like several other places, it will become the dominant variant. How quickly that will be, off the top of my head I don’t know,” said Dr. Char. “I think for us in Hawaiʻi, certainly if we continue on this trend, I think by very early into next year, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the dominant variant.”
Today’s nearly 800 new COVID-19 cases does not represent any backlog, according to state officials.
- The 7-day new case average increased from 101 ten days ago to 297 today.
- The positivity rate jumped from 1.4% ten days ago to 4.2% today.
“We are seeing an alarming increase in the number of cases,” said Governor David Ige during a press briefing on Friday. “We also know that what can help slow the spread of the virus is something that we have done for the past two years–Get vaccinated (from keiki to kupuna); For those who are fully vaccinated and have yet to get their boosters, please do so; Wear your masks, especially as required indoors and in crowded spaces outdoors; If you feel sick or have symptoms, stay home, avoid other people, and get tested.”
The governor urged those who have symptoms to get tested as soon as possible, and those who are exposed to a COVID positive individual to get tested regardless of vaccination status. “And it’s time to reassess your plan so that you can celebrate with your loved ones safely during this holiday season,” he said.
“We are continuing to research to understand what we are dealing with in this latest surge,” said Gov. Ige, who plans to meet with the county mayors today to discuss what type of protocols might be required going forward. “The bottom line is your life matters. Our mission is to stop the spread,” he said.
State health officials provided the following guidelines for vaccines:
- People at least 18 years old who completed their initial series of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least six months ago should a booster now.
- People ages 16 and 17 who completed their initial series of Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago can get a booster.
- Those who received a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago should get a booster now.
Information on where vaccines are available can be found at https://hawaiicovid19.com/vaccine-info/.
“Perhaps the numbers in the hospitals may end up being worse than Delta… If you had a virus that infected 100 people and 10% ended up in the hospital, that would be 10 people. But if you have something that is super easy to transmit and it infects 1,000 people, even though maybe only 3% end up in the hospital, that’s going to be 30 people. So it’s kind a false story that we’re hearing–‘oh don’t worry about it, it’s really mild, why don’t we just let everybody get it, it’s just like getting a cold’–If it’s that easily transmitted, just by the sheer numbers, we are going to see people ending up in the hospital and we’re going to be seeing people getting severely ill from it, even though it is less virulent than some of the previous variants,” said Dr. Char.
Hawaiʻi National Guard Joint Task Force to be Reestablished
The Hawaiʻi National Guard canceled today’s ceremony that was intended to mark the drawdown of the Hawaiʻi National Guard Joint Task Force that supported COVID-19 response.
Just two days ago, the state announced plans to scale back its mission for some 500 Hawai‘i National Guardsmen.
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 Hawaiʻi “as the number of COVID-19 cases rise and in anticipation of support that will be needed for testing, contact tracing, and vaccinations,” according to state officials.
“The HING must be responsive, and to do so we must anticipate needs,” said Maj. Gen. Hara. “We must organize again and resource ourselves to meet the needs of the counties and the state.”