HONOLULU (KHON2) — COVID cases in Hawaii have increased 1300% since Dec. 1 when the state recorded 108 new cases and a 1.4% positivity rate.
As of Thursday, Dec. 23, the state recorded 1,511 cases and an 8.1% positivity rate. The omicron variant continues to take over and infections have more than doubled in two days.
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“That’s why we’re so concerned if, up to now, there’s been a fair amount of delta, and omicrons just going to take off and push delta to the side, we’re going to see the numbers rise,” explained Dr. Libby Char, Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) director.
Health officials said they do not know how high cases will rise because it depends on people’s behavior over the next few weeks.
To avoid a trip to the hospital they recommend the unvaccinated get vaccinated and the vaccinated get a booster shot.
Nearly 74% of the state is fully vaccinated, but health data shows about 330,000 people have received a booster.
Dr. Char said breakthrough infections with omicron are also up, and a three-shot series should be considered as “fully-vaccinated.”
“We have been discussing from a public health standpoint, understanding that it’s a little bit more difficult to actually implement, but should we say that we will accept people as fully vaccinated when they have three doses, or when they’ve gotten that booster shot, and we’re definitely discussing that to say, maybe that’s what we should do, and that’s the bar for travelers,” Dr. Char said regarding the Safe Travels program.
The Safe Travels program currently allows people with two mRNA or one Johnson & Johnson dose to bypass the state’s mandatory quarantine or if they can provide a negative COVID-19 test taken 72 hours before their flight.
“Do we change up the test or shorten that window? That’s another option. So yes, we are discussing it. But again, the public health recommendation would be you test as close to flying time as possible, you have your immunizations plus the booster shot. But understand that there are challenges in implementing that,” she continued.
Health officials have been pushing for booster shots due to increases in breakthrough infections with omicron.
Officials said on June 23, 2021, about 800,000 Hawaii residents were fully vaccinated; six months later, on Dec. 23, 2021, only 330,000 people have received a booster dose.
“It’s been six months or more since they got their vaccine, so their immunity dropped a lot. If they got a booster, they’re good, but only 333,000 people got a booster and another 500,000 people have no booster — they’re probably vulnerable to catch the omicron variant. It should be less severe, but we don’t know long-term effects, we don’t know if there will be long COVID still, so do what you can to avoid catching this virus.”Lt. Gov. Josh Green
Officials said older people and those with underlying health issues are at increased risk of getting severely ill if they do not get a booster.
“Very sadly, we will see people die from this, and I just think it’s really sad when the message is ‘it’s omicron, you don’t have to worry about it,’” Dr. Char added.
Dr. Char said contributing to the surge included waning immunity, not enough people getting boosters and county mayors being able to tighten or loosen restrictions without the governor’s approval.
“Pretty much things are open right now and there are precious few restrictions, and so you can have large gatherings, you can attend an event, you know, 8,000 or 10,000 people, you can have indoor things that we talked about that were high risk,” Dr. Char said.
She said any large gathering, or gathering with people who are not vaccinated, is a ‘horrible idea’ right now, especially at places where people take their masks off to eat or drink, as well as places where people are unsure if others have been vaccinated or not.
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She is also encouraging people to change up their travel plans.
“Avoid travel right now, don’t put yourself in those situations, just postpone, you know, in the spring, maybe that might be a better time to have gatherings and get-together,” Dr. Char said.