Officials monitoring ‘alarming increase’ in COVID cases

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The number of new COVID-19 cases on Oahu has surged nearly fivefold in the past two weeks.

On Friday, the state reported 797 new coronavirus cases, the highest case count since mid-September, and a positivity rate of 4.2%. On Dec. 7, the state’s seven-day average was 101 cases a day.

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“Now, just 10 days later, our seven-day average is 297 cases a day. On December 7, our positivity rate was 1.4%, today, just 10 days later, our positivity rate is 4.2%. And just yesterday, our positivity rate was at 3.1%, so we are seeing an alarming increase in the number of cases,” said Gov. David Ige on Friday.

Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) Director Dr. Libby Char said the surge is due to a mix of delta and omicron variant cases. There are currently 31 confirmed cases of the omicron variant in the state as of Thursday night — all of the cases are limited to Oahu. There are 17 pending cases also believed to be on Oahu.

“I think it’s inevitable at some point we’re going to see omicron cases on the neighbor islands,” said Dr. Char.

Omicron appears to be more easily transmitted, and it appears right now it is less virulent, but don’t be fooled into thinking that it won’t affect our hospitals and our families,” Dr. Char added. “Perhaps the numbers in the hospitals may end up being worse than delta.”

“If it’s that easily transmitted, just by the sheer numbers, we’re going to see people ending up in the hospital, and we’re going to see people getting severely ill from it,” she continued.

“It’s really important if you have any symptoms to get tested as soon as possible, if you have been exposed to someone who is COVID positive, you should get tested regardless of your vaccination status,” Ige said. “And it’s time to reassess your plans so you can celebrate with your loved ones safe during this holiday season.”

“If you have mild symptoms, and you’re not sure what it is, and you think, ‘Oh, maybe I’m just coming down with a little bit of a cold,’ please don’t make that assumption right now,” said Dr. Char. “That’s not a safe assumption, and stay home and go get tested.”

The DOH is now urging residents to get their booster shots as it sees more breakthrough cases.

Dr. Char said getting a third dose is “tremendously important” because it takes our neutralizing antibody levels and shoots it very high to provide us better protection. Still, it does not make us invincible, she added.

The state health director advises residents to have a plan if they get infected.

“Make smart choices. Please celebrate the holidays, but celebrate them responsibly, and spend time with your family and friends, and do so safely,” Dr. Char said. “You can very much control your risk of exposure to COVID and you can limit whether or not you get sick if you do happen to get exposed.”

The increase in travel — including residents returning from their Thanksgiving trips — and people going out more to enjoy holiday activities in large gatherings are contributing factors to the surge the state is seeing now, Dr. Char added. Taking off your mask at concerts and meeting family or friends you haven’t seen in a while will increase your risk to exposure.

Travel is expected to increase again for the Christmas holiday, but Gov. David Ige on Friday said there are no changes to the Safe Travels program at this time. He is, however, asking Hawaii Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara to reevaluate the dismissal of approximately 500 Hawaii National Guardsmen (HING) who have been supporting the state’s COVID mission, such as screening travelers at the state’s airports.

A “Mahalo Ceremony” that was scheduled to dismiss the Guardsmen from their COVID duties on Friday was canceled following the governor’s request. It was previously announced that about 100 Soldiers and Airmen would remain on orders until mid-March.

“The HING must be responsive, and to do so we must anticipate needs,” Maj. Gen. Hara said in a statement. “We must organize again and resource ourselves to meet the needs of the counties and the state.” 

Overnight one additional COVID patient was admitted to the hospital, according to the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, bringing the total number of current infected patients to 41.

Ige said COVID hospitalizations have been between 30 and 40 the past few weeks.

On Oahu, 712 cases were reported on Friday, the 7-day average for Oahu is now 251, with a positivity rate of 5.4%. In response to the surge in cases Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said:

It appears the COVID fight is shifting to omicron, and we have been advised case counts are likely to surge again. We continue to monitor conditions very closely and consult with our medical experts. We remain hopeful Omicron symptoms are mild and do not lead to more severe cases requiring hospitalization.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi

Find more COVID-19 news: cases, vaccinations on our Coronavirus News page

Those ages 16 and older who completed their initial series of Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago can get a booster shot. Those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago are also eligible.

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