Hawaii has administered roughly a third of the nearly 83,000 COVID-19 vaccination doses the state has received so far.
Gov. David Ige, Lt. Gov. Josh Green and state Department of Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char provided these figures during an update on vaccinations Tuesday afternoon at the state Capitol.
“As we head into 2021 there’s hope that our economy will recover if we can continue to contain COVID-19, preserving the health of both residents and visitors alike,” said Ige. “The COVID-19 vaccine distribution marks the beginning of our path to recovery. It will help us return to in-person learning, our jobs, and get people back to work and the restoration of community activities.”
Ige said while cases are on the rise in Hawaii, it is not in the same dire situation as some mainland states, where cases are spiking uncontrollably and overwhelming hospital systems, and that officials did not want to get to that point here.
The first phase of vaccinations, Phase 1-A, which began in mid-December and is underway this month, focuses on health care workers and long-term care facility residents.
CVS, Walgreens and other private pharmacies are administering the vaccines to long-term care residents in the state, including at 15 Craigside, a retirement community in Nuuanu which held its first vaccination clinic Tuesday afternoon.
Ige said his 99-year-old mother and mother-in-law have received the COVID-19 vaccination.
On Monday, Char said Hawaii received an additional 17,000 doses of the vaccine — much of it including the second of the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna administered a few weeks ago.
Health care workers who received the first dose are now able to get the second dose of the two-shot vaccine, which are to be administered three to four weeks following the first one.
For the second phase, Phase 1-B, Lt. Gov. Josh Green said the focus would be on about 109,000 kupuna ages 75 and older in the state, along with about 50,000 front-line essential workers.
The list of front-line essential workers includes first responders, corrections officers and staff, emergency service workers and individuals essential for federal, state and local government operations. It also includes critical and public transportation workers, utilities workers, teachers, child care workers and education support staff, along with U.S. Postal Service workers.
Green said that as of Thursday at least 26,000 individuals in Hawaii have been vaccinated, and that thousands more were vaccinated over the weekend, Monday and Tuesday. He hopes to vaccinate 35,000 to 40,000 individuals by the end of this week.
There has been a surge in new coronavirus cases since the holidays began, confirmed Green.
On Dec. 1 following Thanksgiving, Hawaii’s seven-day average for new daily cases stood at 80 and the positivity rate at 1.7%, with 56 patients hospitalized. On Tuesday the seven-day average for new daily cases stood at about 140, with a positivity rate of 3.5% and about 100 hospitalized.
On Tuesday the daily new-case count for the state included 124 coronavirus infections, bringing the statewide total to 22,168. The 124 cases — which reflect new cases reported to the Health Department on Sunday — include 74 on Oahu, 21 on Maui, 12 on Hawaii island, one on Kauai and 16 residents diagnosed out of state.
Maui County, in particularly, has seen its daily case count rise in an upward curve since November, and officials there have been alarmed at the double-digit daily case counts and a positivity rate that has climbed beyond 3%.
Mayor Michael Victorino confirmed Tuesday an employee in his office tested positive for COVID-19 and is now in isolation. The superintendent of the Baldwin- Kekaulike-Maui Complex area of schools decided to postpone the return of blended, in-person learning as originally planned this quarter, and to continue in full distance learning mode through Feb. 1 due to the recent surge in cases.
In addition, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources recently shut down Puu Olai Beach, also known as Little Beach, at Makena State Park after Sunday parties have been drawing hundreds of maskless dancers and drumming circles, along with illegal alcohol.
Green said despite the surge, Hawaii continues to have the lowest case and death rates from COVID-19 in the nation.
Char said the department continues to monitor for variant strains of COVID-19 that have hit Colorado, California and upstate New York.
“We haven’t seen any of these new strains yet in our test samples,” said Char. “But one of the new highly transmissible or contagious strains has been identified in a few states across the U.S., so we expect at some point we may see it here. That’s why it’s so critical that we continue to wear our masks, keep our distance and avoid gathering in crowded spaces.”
In Phase 1-C, which is expected to occur between March and May, the focus of vaccinations will be for those ages 65 to 74, as well as those with chronic diseases and essential workers not previously included in Phase 1-B. Exceptions, however, will be made for unexpected outbreaks.
Vaccinations should become available for the general population, Green said, starting in early summer, depending on the federal allocation. By then he expects more options will become available.
“We’d like everyone to remain patient,” said Green. “We want to echo what the governor said: Please be safe. This (holding up a mask) is going to do just as much good as the vaccination for the foreseeable future. But we will vaccinate our most vulnerable people, mostly our kupuna and our essential workforce.”
Plans are also underway to establish larger, distribution sites in mid-January to provide greater COVID-19 vaccination access to the community, officials said. More information on how to schedule vaccinations for those age 75 and older should be available soon at HawaiiCovid19.com.
A new phone line has also been set up for those with COVID-19 vaccination questions from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays to Fridays at 586-8332.