HONOLULU (KHON2) — September has been the deadliest month since the pandemic began; 198 people have died of COVID-19 in Hawaii since Sunday, Aug. 29.
The number of fatalities is the only number that continues to climb as the state trends down from the delta surge.
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Health officials said one form of COVID treatment is becoming more popular. Monoclonal antibody treatment has been used in Hawaii for months but became increasingly popular on the mainland during the delta surge.
“What they are essentially is a mimic of what our immune system creates,” explained Lt. Gov. Josh Green. “If you’re vaccinated and you create antibodies, you’ve already done the job pretty much.”
He said treatment does not provide immunity, but it can help mild to moderate COVID-19 cases, and it can help keep hospital numbers down.
“Usually within 24 hours, people start to see their symptoms diminish — if it works — it’s not guaranteed at all. Essentially, what it’s doing, it’s giving you kind of a boost of antibodies that you would have otherwise gotten if you were vaccinated,” Green said, highlighting the importance of vaccination over treatment.
According to the Department of Health (DOH), monoclonal antibodies help the immune system temporarily respond to the immediate infection. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization for a number of monoclonal antibody therapies that served as an early treatment after a COVID-19 diagnosis.
“If people who get COVID — if they’re high risk — if we can administer this treatment within the first 10 days of their illness, it is about a 70 to 75% reduction in people getting serious disease, going to the hospital and potentially dying,” explained Jacob Schafer, epidemiologist and the Director of Infection Control at the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Center.
Doctors said people should get tested for the coronavirus at the first sign of symptoms because monoclonal antibody treatment should be done sooner rather than later.
“Once you are oxygen-dependent like you’re short of breath, you need oxygen or you need to be intubated, it’s too late to get monoclonal antibodies,” Green explained.
There are roughly 200 fewer COVID hospitalizations than there were at the beginning of September. Health officials said it is too soon to know if the treatment is why hospitalizations have dropped so quickly but said it could be one of the many factors.
“The fact they are being used more widely now than they have been is a good sign, and it definitely would be reducing the numbers of hospitalizations,” Healthcare Association of Hawaii CEO Hilton Raethel said on Tuesday, Sept. 21.
The treatment is currently in high demand in states where COVID vaccination rates are low. It has resulted in the federal government sending a limited supply to Hawaii and other states with higher vaccination rates.
“It does mean we have to be more selective in terms of who actually gets the drugs,” said Raethel.
Schafer from WCCC said COVID-positive people over the age of 65 or people who have underlying health conditions — like diabetes or obesity — qualify for the treatment.
On Tuesday, Sept. 21, Raethel said the state will receive 600 doses this upcoming week. The DOH said it distributes the treatment based on county population and where hotspots are.
According to the DOH website, the Leeward Coast continues to report the highest number of COVID cases. In the last 14 days, Waianae has reported 483 cases, Ewa has 376 and Kapolei reported 277. Additionally, Waipahu had 382 cases in the last 14 days, followed by 287 cases from Nuuanu to Moanalua. On Hawaii island, 221 cases have been reported in Hilo in the last two weeks, followed by 209 in Keauhou.
On Maui, 126 cases were reported in two weeks in Kahului, as well as 103 reported in Hanamaulu and 102 in Kapaa.
Doctors want to remind people that the treatment is not a form of COVID protection, and the vaccine provides much more protection from ending up in the hospital or from dying.
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“Protect yourself upfront, don’t wait to get infected and hope one of these treatments of monoclonal antibodies will be available to you because there is no guarantee that one, you’ll be a candidate, and two there’s no guarantee it will save your life so get vaccinated up front,” said DOH spokesperson Brooks Baehr on Tuesday, Sept. 21.