HONOLULU (KHON2) — Two more people have died from COVID-19 in our state, bringing Hawaii’s death toll from the virus to 43. Health officials say the victims are a man and woman on Oahu, over the age of 60.
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This, as the state’s new positive case count nearly doubled from Tuesday to 261: 234 are on Oahu, 20 on Maui and seven on the Big Island. This brings the statewide total since the pandemic began to 5,609.
To help with the increase in cases, the state is ramping up its contact tracing capability. The State Department of Health says the guideline to have more than 500 contact tracers is outdated. And federal recommendations geared for the whole country aren’t always a good fit for Hawaii.
The health department can now use the ballrooms of the Hawaii Convention Center as the state hires more contact tracers. DOH says it has 126 tracers now with 13 administrators, and will hire 100 more tracers soon. In addition to having more, DOH says tracers can also work more efficiently by prioritizing their efforts.
“The overarching goal with prioritizing groups is to best focus our efforts in order to reduce the odds of spreading the disease further in our community,” said Dr. Emily Roberson, chief of the DOH Disease Investigative Branch.
The four priority groups are those in high-risk jobs such as healthcare workers, people in high-risk settings such as long-term care facilities, people over 65 years old or with chronic conditions, and those who have COVID symptoms. Dr. Roberson is now in charge of contact tracing for DOH and she says there’s no solid target number for how many she plans to have.
“That being said, we are still in the process of scaling up and we’re trying to be responsive to the numbers and to the situation on the ground here in Hawaii,” she said.
The director for DOH says no amount of contact tracers could have prevented the surge we’re having now.
“I was actually on the phone with CDC this morning, the head of CDC, and I asked, ‘Do you have any standards for the number of contact tracers per capita?’ And he said straight out, ‘No we don’t,'” said Dr. Bruce Anderson.
Some say the surge in cases would not be as bad if DOH acted earlier. The Hawaii National Guard offered its troops to help with contact tracing more than two months ago, and DOH said it didn’t need them.
“You look back, hindsight yeah, if we started this earlier it would have been more beneficial. But take into consideration that we didn’t expect the spike to be exponentially growing like it did,” said Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.
“The statistics will show that our contact tracing efforts have been better than average and amongst the best in the country,” said Gov. David Ige.