Hawaiʻi officials monitoring COVID-19 surge, evaluating Hawaiʻi’s Safe Travels program
December 31, 2021, 7:33 AM HST
* Updated December 31, 10:02 AM
New Year’s behavior:
State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char said the department continues to respond, especially as a COVID-19 surge is underway and New Year’s Day is on the horizon.
“We know that indoors, crowded places, no masks, being in contact with people who are not vaccinated–we know that all of those are all really high risk things, so we as a Department of Health try and provide guidance and make sure that the education is there so that people understand that those are high risk things,” she said during a Wednesday press briefing. “If you can take it outdoors, that’s a better thing to do. Make sure you’re wearing your mask. Please go get vaccinated. Go get your booster shot. We don’t make the policy, but we certainly encourage people to do the right thing from a public health standpoint.”
Dr. Char said the department is concerned about New Year’s. “We hope that people will behave accordingly to minimize the risk. I think it’s kind of fatalistic to just say ‘Well it’s here and we’re just going to go crazy and there’s nothing we can do about it.’ We absolutely can influence this by our behaviors,” said Dr. Char.
“We do know what public health measures make sense and we advise on that, and we try and get the community to buy-in on that,” said Dr. Char, noting that she does not make policy for the City and County of Honolulu. “Personally, I think it would have been a good thing to implement the high risk activities–to put some limits on those things. We are in the middle of a pandemic, and certain activities are just not compatible with a respiratory pathogen in a pandemic,” said Dr. Char.
Weighing in on County restrictions:
At the end of November, the state returned authority back to the counties, to allow them the ability to issue emergency orders without seeking approval of the state.
“We have shared best practices with all of the counties,” said Gov. Ige. “We’ve identified the most risky behavior that encourages the spread of the virus. We have in our cluster reports, have reported on where we see clusters occurring, and we will continue to share that information with the counties.”
“We recognize that omicron is more easily transmissible, and certainly we’ve been sharing the information and the science that we have. All of the mayors have been making decisions on behalf of their counties. It is a balancing act about public health vs. enforcement, vs other criteria that comes into play,” said Gov. Ige.
Any changes to Safe Travels would require two weeks to implement:
Any changes to Hawaiʻi’s Safe Travels program would require a minimum of two weeks to implement, according to information shared by Governor David Ige during a press briefing hosted by the the state Department of Health on Wednesday.
It’s one of the topics touched upon as COVID-19 cases continue to surge, and the state adjusts to recommendations issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relating to quarantine and isolation.
“We certainly are evaluating,” Gov. Ige said of the Safe Travels program. “As you know, the Safe Travels system is a complex system, and we are also evaluating the point at which we would end the program, so there are many decisions that we’ll be making over the next few days, and certainly we’ll be making announcements as necessary.”
Revised quarantine policies:
Earlier this week, the Hawai‘i Department of Health announced it is revising the state’s COVID-19 isolation and quarantine policies to closely align with recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These changes are effective Monday, Jan. 3, 2022 for all DOH directed isolation and quarantine.
“Testing is recommended at five days for everyone who is a close contact, not for people who have a confirmed infection. If you have a confirmed infection, you do not need to test again at five days. But if you are in quarantine and are masking because of a confirmed exposure, then you do need to test at five days, and that can be either an antigen test or a PCR test. And it doesn’t need to be reported to the Department of Health. That’s a recommendation for each person to do,” said Dr. Janet Berreman, Kaua‘i District Health Officer during a press briefing hosted by the state Department of Health on Wednesday.
“The new policies underscore the benefits of booster shots. People who are boosted and do not have symptoms will not need to quarantine after exposure to someone who is COVID positive,” said Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char, FACEP in a press release issued earlier this week. “Mask wearing is a key part of the updated guidance. We know how important masks are in reducing the spread of COVID-19.”
Booster shots to be required for “full vaccination” status in Maui County
In a little over a week, Maui County residents will be considered “fully vaccinated” only if those eligible have had their booster shots, according to a county announcement Wednesday evening. This makes Maui County the first in the state to mandate booster shots for entry to high-risk businesses. The changes go into effect on Jan. 8, 2022.
“Iʻm not sure if itʻs just we need to do a better job of messaging, or what. We’ve done a really good job of people getting their initial two doses. We’re doing great at that. If you look at the states, we’re probably in the top 10 states for people getting what we had been considering fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Char.
“The booster shots seem to be lagging, and I’m not entirely sure [why]. Some of the answers we were hearing when we were trying to get to the bottom of that was that it’s the holidays, and people didn’t want to get a shot, because they didn’t want their arm to be sore over the holidays; or just that they weren’t aware of how necessary it is when we’re dealing with omicron,” said Dr. Char.
“We know now, it’s becoming increasingly important to get your booster shot,” she said.