The warning signs are coming in, not in a trickle but in a flood. There are signals from the nation’s highest-ranking official on the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that must not be ignored.
Walensky talked of her sense of “impending doom” over the recent rise in COVID-19 infections, on what should be the brink of a breakthrough. Amid what should be a season of hope and optimism — the rollout of vaccines is going relatively well in the U.S., as well as in Hawaii — Walensky admits to feeling “scared.”
The messaging from Hawaii’s own pandemic navigators is concerning as well. Lt. Gov. Josh Green, the medical doctor who for weeks has brought his brand of cautious optimism to the state’s response, started the week on Monday with that optimism on the back burner.
Right up front, Green said on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight Hawaii” webcast that the state is several weeks shy of getting its vaccination level up to the point where the risk of a dangerous infection surge will have receded enough to exhale.
Case counts have been climbing here as well, which Green said is likely due to a relaxation of established pandemic precautions.
“People have a sense of immunity, but we’re not there yet,” he warned.
No, we are not. There have been relatively few clusters of infections in the past week — more on Maui, in fact, than on Oahu — with more cases arising from general socialization spreading further through families, Green said.
Clearly, it’s the general mixing that is the worry; such activity should be curbed in the coming weeks. On Oahu, that means until the running seven-day average case count drops back well under 50, or at least within the less-restrictive Tier 3 level that this island has been enjoying. If the count stays high for two weeks running, the city could fall back to Tier 2, allowing only social gatherings of five or fewer and tightening restrictions on businesses just getting back on their feet.
Mayor Rick Blangiardi has only recently loosened tier restrictions further, allowing bars to reopen with the same conditions as restaurants, and with a later, midnight closing time. Most recently, funeral attendence constraints have been lifted, outdoor weddings have been authorized and other structured events are allowed, with resumption of outdoor youth sports on the horizon.
If Oahu residents want to enjoy that level of freedom, it’s going to require that they sacrifice a little of it now. Just because people legally can gather in groups of 10 now, the lieutenant governor said, it doesn’t mean they should. And families that want to have large weddings or events should pick a date that falls a bit later on the calendar.
Even those who have been careful during the last year of pandemic protocols need to acknowledge that the arrival of coronavirus variants has changed the landscape. The mutations have made some of the variants more easily infectious and even dangerous.
Without a doubt, the situation in many hot spots across the mainland is far worse. The post-spring-break spike in cases has led President Joe Biden to press for states to reinstate mask mandates that they had just jettisoned.
However, although Hawaii has adhered to such safeguards in its policy, there’s been backsliding here as well. Secret parties and even a rap music concert in Waianae, gathering hundreds in close quarters, are appalling examples of negligence.
Island residents can reasonably hope vaccines will help them win this race with the virus. But it’s still a race with an uncertain outcome. While picking up the immunization pace, they must also work to slow down the virus. Hawaii desperately needs that edge.