More than 98% of recent COVID-19 cases in Hawaii have been among unvaccinated residents, according to Hawaii Department of Health officials who continued to stress the importance of getting vaccinated during a Wednesday segment of Spotlight Hawaii.
“We know that the vaccines work. We know that it will keep you safe from the delta variant and any other strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” said Health Department Director Libby Char. “So it works. It is not impossible to get an infection after you get vaccinated, but if you do you are not likely to get severely ill from it, you are not likely to get hospitalized from it, and I think that’s what’s really important.”
Among the small percentage of “breakthrough” cases in people who were vaccinated, none have died and only five have had to be hospitalized since January, according to acting State Epidemiologist Sarah Kemble.
As of Wednesday, 57.9% of residents had been fully vaccinated and 62.5% had received at least one shot, according to state data. Gov. David Ige has said he will drop the state’s safety-related restrictions on businesses and activities, including indoor mask mandates, once 70% of the state is fully vaccinated, though he has said other factors such as the number of COVID-19 cases and how well the vaccines continue to hold up against the variants could also play a role in this decision.
There are also caveats. As Hawaii’s children get ready to return to school in early August, state officials have said that they will need to wear masks, a requirement that won’t automatically cease once the state reaches the 70% mark. Because students under 12 still aren’t eligible for the vaccines, there will be continued safety protocols in place, according to the governor’s office. Health officials have predicted that a vaccine could be authorized for younger children in September or October.
Kemble said that the Health Department has seen an increase in cases in children and that the source of infection is often the household.
“We have seen an uptick in pediatric infections and school age infections, so that is something we really want to watch closely as we reopen schools,” she said.
In addition to mask requirements, Kemble said the schools are looking at social distancing when possible and increasing ventilation by keeping windows open, among other measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
On Wednesday, the Health Department reported one new coronavirus-related death and 56 new confirmed and probable infections statewide, bringing the state’s totals since the start of the pandemic to 517 fatalities and 37,758 cases.
The infection count by island includes 34 new cases on Oahu, four on Maui, nine on Hawaii island and nine Hawaii residents diagnosed outside the state.