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July 4th parties blamed for virus spread in Hawaii

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                                People gathered under tents at Queen’s Beach in Waikiki on July 4.


    People gathered under tents at Queen’s Beach in Waikiki on July 4.

Hawaii officials are attributing the recent spike in coronavirus cases statewide to July Fourth celebrations and the still substantial number of residents who have not been vaccinated against the virus that so far has sickened over 39,000 people here and killed 523.

The state Department of Health on Saturday reported 124 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 infections statewide, the third consecutive day of triple- digit increases, and no new deaths. Officials reported 166 new cases Thursday, the highest single-day case count since mid-January, and 147 cases on Friday.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green called the troubling trend a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” and said the growing spread of COVID-19 is “without a doubt” related to gatherings from the recent three-day holiday weekend.

“I expect cases will likely drop again by next weekend or sooner but we will keep seeing outbreaks in under- vaccinated areas. Labor (Day) weekend will be risky like the 4th of July weekend,” Green told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a text message Saturday.

He said the new infections are almost exclusively affecting people who have not been vaccinated, adding that 95% of COVID-19- related hospital admissions have involved unvaccinated patients.

Department of Health spokesman Brooks Baehr echoed those sentiments Saturday, saying “we are seeing widespread community transmission among unvaccinated people” who are being infected while traveling or while not wearing masks indoors as mandated.

Additionally, children who are not eligible to be vaccinated are being infected by unvaccinated adults, he said.

“The timing of the recent increase in cases indicates transmission among unvaccinated people during the 4th of July holiday weekend,” Baehr said via email.

“The delta variant is also taking root across the state, finding unvaccinated people to infect. Delta cases have doubled every two weeks in other places and we expect the same is happening in Hawaii. We urge those who are eligible and not yet vaccinated to please get vaccinated soon. The vaccines prevent almost all severe illness and death. People can protect themselves and their loved ones by being vaccinated.”

Hawaii has one of the highest vaccination rates among the 50 states. So far 65% of the total population has received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine and just about 59% have been fully vaccinated.

Oahu leads the state with 61% of its population fully vaccinated, followed by Kauai, 59%; Hawaii island, 55%; and Maui County, 53%.

The numbers are far better when considering the population age 12 and older who are eligible for vaccines and are fully vaccinated: 71% on Oahu, 69% on Kauai, 64% on Hawaii island, and 62% in Maui County.

Saturday’s new cases included 81 on Oahu, nine on Maui, 20 on Hawaii island, 12 on Kauai and two Hawaii residents diagnosed outside the state.

The Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency said in a news release Saturday the recent increase in coronavirus infections on that island involved travel “and not following preventive measures” such as frequent hand-washing, covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing, and adhering to policies regarding face masks, social distancing and gatherings.

Since the start of the pandemic, Hawaii has seen 39,090 COVID-19 cases and 523 deaths.

The latest data reflects new infections reported to the Health Department on Thursday.

At a news conference Thursday on the state’s eviction moratorium, Gov. David Ige also discussed the rising COVID-19 case numbers in Hawaii, noting the delta variant is spreading primarily among unvaccinated people.

“Our seven-day average now has increased significantly over the last three weeks. We do know that the higher case counts are the result probably of the Fourth of July weekend,” Ige said. “We are fortunate in the sense that we are not seeing significant increases in hospitalizations at this point and not seeing a significant increase in the number of fatalities.”

Four new hospitalizations were reported by the DOH on Saturday. According to the Hawaii COVID-19 Data dashboard, 58 patients with the virus were in Hawaii hospitals as of Friday, with 13 in intensive-care units and nine on ventilators.

The DOH also said there were 1,007 active cases statewide: 679 on Oahu, 164 on Hawaii island, 86 on Maui, 77 on Kauai and one on Molokai.

Ige said he is not leaning toward changing any of the current coronavirus-related restrictions, specifically the state’s indoor mask mandate. The governor has said he wants to keep that in place until 70% of the total population is vaccinated.

“I do believe that the best course of action at this time is to maintain restrictions in place,” he said Thursday.

The state’s official coronavirus-related death toll includes 405 fatalities on Oahu, 57 on Maui, 56 on Hawaii island, two on Kauai and three Hawaii residents who died outside the state.

Of the 39,090 confirmed and probable coronavirus cases statewide since the start of the pandemic, 28,670 have been on Oahu, 4,801 on Maui, 3,445 on Hawaii island, 465 on Kauai, 115 on Lanai and 81 on Molokai, and 1,513 Hawaii residents were diagnosed outside of the state.

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