HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawaii saw its highest COVID-19 case count since January 12, with 166 new cases reported on Thursday.
Health officials said this surge is being caused by “widespread community transmission” from July 4 gatherings, the Delta variant, and unvaccinated people traveling.
“We’ve been moving in the wrong direction for the better part of a week now,” said Hawaii Department of Health spokesperson Brooks Baehr. “And the bug is moving among unvaccinated people, and we believe that the Delta variant is certainly playing a role here.”
The health department said it’s even more concerning because this time last year, the state didn’t even reach triple-digit case numbers yet.
“We didn’t have cases this high, then they exploded in late July, August and into September,” Baehr said.
Health officials said it’s concerning because the Delta variant is much more transmissible than the coronavirus was one year ago.
“If you’re unvaccinated, this Delta variant will infect you,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green. “Especially in parts of our state where the vaccine rate is lower and there is more COVID around –that’s where people are catching it. So this is community spread, it’s not a big cluster.”
The health department said the only cluster reported this week was in a long-term care facility.
“We have about seven cases that are associated with unvaccinated people at a long term care facility, both residents and staff,” Baehr said.
“We attribute these new cases to unvaccinated people,” Baehr continued. “They are unvaccinated people who have traveled, residents who have traveled to the mainland, not been vaccinated, and they have been infected and they’ve come back. They are people who are unvaccinated and they are indoors not wearing masks. And really unfortunately, we have young children being infected by unvaccinated adults, often household members. So it just underscores to us the real importance of being vaccinated.”
Across the state, areas with low vaccination rates have some of the highest case counts over the last two weeks: Kapaa had 24 COVID-19 cases, 69 have been reported in Waianae, 77 cases in Ewa, 21 cases in Kahului, 18 cases in Kihei-Wailea, and 38 cases in Hilo.
The only area on Oahu to not report a single COVID-19 case in the last two weeks is Hauula, which has the island’s highest vaccination rate.
Variants make up nearly all new cases, and the Delta variant could pose greater risks.
“It is especially a threat to unvaccinated people, and early evidence shows, unfortunately, that the Delta variant leads to higher rates of death and higher rates of severe illness,” Baehr said.
“Let me be really clear, 99 plus percent of all cases we get are people who are unvaccinated,” Green said. “The Delta variant is more contagious, and if you’re indoors and unvaccinated, you better darn well be wearing a mask or you’re going to catch COVID.”
Health officials warn Thursday’s numbers will likely lead to more hospital admissions and deaths in the coming weeks.
“Our advice is that if you are unvaccinated, you really shouldn’t be traveling right now, especially the way we’re seeing a surge on the mainland, and now here on the islands,” Baehr said.