HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawaii reported more COVID cases in the first week of January than in the entire month of December 2021.

In December 2021, the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) reported a total of 25,268 cases. From Jan. 1 to Jan. 8, the DOH reported 25,714 cases.

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The highly transmissible omicron variant has been dubbed the ‘mild variant,’ but experts said it is only believed to be less severe than the delta variant.

“It is a COVID-19 virus nonetheless, and it still can potentially cause severe illness and hospitalization,” explained Dr. Douglas Kwock, the Hawaii Pacific Health infectious disease specialist.

“It’s a very real disease. I know individuals who are severely ill, and if you’re not boosted and there are more people around you with omicron, there’ll be more spread.”

Josh Green, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR

Experts have been saying for months that hospitalizations lag about three to four weeks behind cases. They are concerned the sheer number of coronavirus cases being reported would lead to more hospitalizations down the road.

During the week of Dec. 18, 2021, there were 46 people who were in the hospital with COVID in Hawaii and 2,760 cases reported. On Jan. 8, there were 252 people hospitalized statewide with 23,004 cases reported by the DOH in a single week.

“It is a concern, right now; one out of every 145 individual cases that we confirm ends up in the hospital. In the previous surge, it was four out of every 100,” explained Green.

“And just because of the sheer numbers of people getting infected, you’re going to get more people that are going to get sick and require hospitalization, even if it is a milder virus, or looking like a milder virus,” explained Dr. Kwock.

This is why experts tell people to not catch COVID by going to large indoor gatherings or being lax on wearing a mask in crowds.

“It’s almost like playing with fire,” said Dr. Kwock.

Doctors said people risk having long-COVID symptoms like brain fog, fatigue and trouble breathing after having the virus and getting sick, which puts everyone in a household and loved ones at risk.

While there is no test to tell if people have omicron or delta, there are some differences they can look for. Doctors said people with omicron tend to have more upper respiratory issues.

“So, pain in the sinuses, severe sore throat, that’s been more prominent and less of the ‘I’ve lost my sense of smell or taste.’ Also, I’ve been seeing less pneumonia, so more of this upper respiratory issue and less in the lungs,” explained Green.

“It’s not deep down in the lungs, where it can affect your oxygenation and whatnot,” said Dr. Kwock. “And the incubation period is shorter as well, too.

Dr. Kwock said the incubation period with the original strain was about seven days; delta was about four to five days, and omicron is about three days.

Other symptoms doctors see with omicron include a sore throat, lower back pain, runny nose, headache, fatigue and night sweats.

The less common symptoms with omicron include fever, loss of taste and smell, as well as heavy coughing.

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Doctors continue to encourage people to stay safe, healthy and vigilant to protect others.