HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Hawaii Pandemic Applied Modeling Workgroup has come up with forecasts for several COVID-19 scenarios since the pandemic began last year, but the most alarming forecast is where the state could be heading in the next few months.
According to experts, the state is currently heading towards a worst-case scenario as vaccinations stall just below 60%, and the Delta variant spreads among the unvaccinated.
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If the trend continues with the vaccination rate at or below 65%, experts said Oahu can expect more than 600 daily, new COVID-19 cases by mid-November.
A better case scenario would be if the state could hit a 70% vaccination rate, which would bring cases to just under 400 a day by mid-November.
“We were doing pretty well. We had like a few waves, but they were on the decreasing slope, even though the tourism was getting higher and higher, we were still controlling the rate very well, but you can see in the very end, the rise [this summer], and we’re in the worst situation right now than we were a year ago,” explained Dr. Monique Chyba, UH Department of Mathematics, who contributed to the study. “Which is very alarming, and the reason is that we have the vaccine, and we have a high percentage of the population that has been vaccinated, and despite that, we are on a steeper journey.”
She said that means the transmission is much higher all due to the Delta variant.
“The Delta variant is driving the rise, or else we would be in a very good situation. We would be completely in control and there would be no question about it, and we wouldn’t have a mask mandate in place, probably,” Dr. Chyba said.
“The Delta variant is the only variant that is increasing, and it’s dominating. So we can assume that soon the Delta variant is going to be the variant that is completely dominating unless we have something else coming,” she added.
Dr. Chyba said Oahu is on track to reach 700 cases if mitigation measures remain the way they are and the Delta variant continues to spread the way it is. She said that many cases would overwhelm hospitals and doesn’t believe the state will allow for the cases to reach that high.
“That means we’re going to have to backtrack. We’re going to have to make a decision. The orange line is if we vaccinate 70% of the population, then you start tempering, and then the green line, which will be something that we could actually sustain, is assuming that you vaccinate up to 80% of the population at a rate that we’re keeping.”
She said the Big Island is the most concerning island right now because the vaccination rate has dropped and the island has the highest positivity rate.
Dr. Chyba and UH assistant epidemiology professor Dr. Thomas Lee, UH HiPAM co-chair, said the state is already doing worse than they projected because hospitalizations are higher today than their models predicted.
Another concern is vaccine effectiveness starting to wane and requiring booster shots while the Delta variant spreads.
The experts said it gives the Delta variant more of a chance to spread to vaccinated people.
“We’re not making up that three days ago, 89 of the 93 hospitalizations with COVID were unvaccinated. We’re not making up that the majority of the fatalities are amongst the unvaccinated,” Dr. Lee said of the unvaccinated people questioning the science of the vaccines.
Both doctors said the longer people wait to get vaccinated, the better the chance of a deadly new variant to form.
“Mask wearing, restricting people to concerts, you know, everything that we didn’t like about the tier system may have to come back into play if we continue to give the virus a chance to become more serious and more infectious,” Dr. Lee continued.
For now, they said getting vaccinated and downloading the Aloha Safe Alert App is the best way to help.
When asked to describe the current situation in one word both said, “alarming and preventable.”
They said mandating vaccinations and imposing restrictions if cases start to climb and overwhelm hospitals will also help bring the curve back down.