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Slight Hawaii COVID rise follows increase in travel, easing of rules

Hawaii’s COVID positivity rate has started to rise — ever so slightly.

State Department of Health officials Sunday reported one new coronavirus-related death on Oahu and 81 additional infections, bringing the state’s totals since the start of the pandemic to 454 fatalities and 28,773 cases.

The new counts on Sunday brought the state’s average case count over the past seven days to 70, for a 1.4% positivity rate. The change follows additional loosening of government restrictions aimed at flattening the coronavirus curve and in the wake of significant tourism increases.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Sunday in a video message posted to his Facebook account that Hawaii’s “numbers have ticked up just a little bit.”

“We’ve had a few more cases, so please wear your masks, socially distance,” Green said, adding that there were 850 active cases of COVID-19 in Hawaii on Sunday, and there were 25 individuals in the hospital with COVID.

That compares with March 14 when Green reported an average of 51 per day having COVID in the state for the past seven days. At that time he reported just 675 active cases statewide.

“We aren’t quite done with this crisis yet,” Green said. “So again, be safe. Be sensible about things. Get your vaccination and we’ll be fine.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that it’s still learning how the coronavirus vaccines will affect the spread of COVID. That’s why even after people have been vaccinated for coronavirus, the CDC recommends that they keep avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. If people who have been vaccinated against COVID visit public places, the CDC still advises that they wear masks and socially distance.

Still, the CDC said it has determined that COVID vaccines are effective at protecting those who have been vaccinated from getting sick.

Green said the state already has completed about 535,000 vaccinations, and he expects to see vaccinations go up “very steeply” in the coming weeks.

Dr. Jill Hoggard Green, president and CEO at The Queen’s Health System, said in a March 15 video message on Covidpau.org that getting vaccinated is key to to resolving COVID-19 and helping Hawaii reach a “new normal.”

“If all of us can do our part and we can get enough vaccines on-island, we have the ability to be able to move forward sometime in the middle or end of the summer,” Hoggard Green said.

Hoggard Green said that although “over 20% of us on-island have had at least one shot, it’s really important for us not to let our guard down.”

“We’re in spring break. We’re increasing our ability to bring in travelers. We’re increasing the number of people who are able to do the activities as we’ve gone to Tier 3,” she said. “But with that comes a responsibility. It’s very important to be wearing our masks, keeping our physical distance and continuing to wash our hands even if we’re vaccinated.”

On March 11 the state started to see a boost in spring break traffic, and the trend has continued with as many as 26,419 travelers screened March 13, the highest single-day count of travelers to arrive in Hawaii since the pandemic began over a year ago.

From March 11 to 18, 173,608 travelers were screened through the state’s Safe Travels Hawaii program.

Oahu moved into the less restrictive Tier 3 of the city’s four-tier economic recovery plan Feb. 25 after being in Tier 2 since Oct. 22. Tier 3 permits social and outdoor recreational gatherings of up to 10 people, and restaurants to seat 10 people at a table. Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi on March 11 announced modifications to Tier 3, including allowing bars to reopen under the same conditions as restaurants and extending the curfew until midnight.

Sunday’s seven-day average case count for Oahu was 39, and the seven-day average positivity rate was 1.4%, according to the mayor.

“At this point in time it’s actually one of our most opportune times to go forward, and we’re still very vulnerable that we can have another surge,” Hoggard Green said.

The U.S. coronavirus-related death toll Sunday was more than 542,000, and the nationwide infection tally was more than 29.8 million.

Sunday’s new statewide infection cases include 42 on Oahu, 24 on Maui, five on Hawaii island, one on Molokai and nine Hawaii residents diagnosed outside the state, according to health officials.

The statistics released Sunday reflect the new infection cases reported to the department Friday.

Coronavirus cases by island since the start of the outbreak are 22,563 on Oahu, 2,610 on Maui, 2,375 in Hawaii County, 186 on Kauai, 109 on Lanai and 31 on Molokai. There are also 899 Hawaii residents who were diagnosed outside of the state. As a result of updated information, one case on Oahu and another from out of state were removed from the counts, health officials said Sunday.

Health officials also said Sunday that of the state’s total infection count, 850 cases were considered active. Officials say they consider infections reported in the past 14 days to be a “proxy number for active cases.” The number of active cases in the state increased by 24 Sunday.

By island, Oahu had 460 active cases, Maui had 282, the Big Island had 103, Molokai had four and Lanai had one. Kauai had no active cases.

Health officials counted 5,780 new COVID-19 test results in Sunday’s tally, for a 1.2% statewide positivity rate.

Of all the confirmed Hawaii infection cases, 1,950 have required hospitalization, with two new hospitalizations — one each on Maui and Oahu — reported Sunday by state health officials.

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