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Department of Health reports show rapid rise of delta, coronavirus spreading at Hawaii gatherings

The highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19 has more than doubled in two weeks in Hawaii, jumping from 57 to 126 statewide, according to the latest report from the State Department of Health’s Laboratories Division.

An additional 69 samples have been detected since the last report July 12, which brings the total delta variants detected, including 57 from last week, to 126 statewide.

Health officials say it is now the predominant variant of concern in Hawaii, representing 55% of the variants circulating in the state, as well as the strain with the most rapid growth rate in Hawaii.

What started out as just one case of the delta variant — detected in a fully vaccinated Oahu resident who had traveled to Nevada in early May — has now grown to 126.

Delta has been detected in all four counties since mid-July and is growing most rapidly in Honolulu county, which has 61 of the cases detected, followed by Hawaii County, which has 31 cases, Maui County, which has nine cases, and Kauai County, which has seven cases.

The delta variant is one of the main driver’s of today’s spike to 243 new coronavirus cases, the highest tracked since early January of this year. Today’s daily high was also the eighth day in a row that daily cases were reported in triple-digits, a trend which officials say is expected to continue for weeks to come.

Edward Desmond, administrator of the state Laboratories Division, said the growth was “more or less what was anticipated.” In the last report on July 12, a total of 57 delta variants had been detected, representing about 17% of the variants circulating in the state.

“When this variant is present in a population, it expands,” he said. “It’s more transmissible than the other variants.”

Desmond said the division currently examines about 100 specimens per week.

Health officials say there is widespread community transmission around the state, and that the vast majority of those infected with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

Some of the cases are from unvaccinated individuals gathering indoors, without masks, as well as unvaccinated individuals that have traveled, officials said. Unvaccinated adults are also infecting children under 12 not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

Today’s cluster report focuses the spread of COVID-19 in unvaccinated residents, which it said are related to delta, Hawaii residents that traveled to the mainland, Fourth of July gatherings and the relaxation of indoor masking and gathering size limitations.

Health officials are currently investigating 16 clusters in all four counties including bars, restaurants, social gatherings, and places of worship. Most of them, nine across various categories, are on Oahu.

The common elements, said Dr. Janet Berreman, Kauai Health District Officer, include unvaccinated people gathering in indoor settings in close proximity to one another for a prolonged time, with inconsistent mask use.

“I think the most important message in the cluster report is that the disease is not contained to a particular type of setting or a particular geographic location in our state,” said Berreman. “We’re seeing widespread community transmission and associated with that, we are seeing clusters that are widely distributed also.”

The good news, she said, is that Hawaii’s available COVID-19 vaccines are “highly effective” in preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death.

“So the most important bottom line is that everyone who hasn’t already been vaccinated should be, and should do so as soon as possible,” she said. “The situation is really urgent with the rapid increase in cases and rapid spread of the delta variant.”

Health officials are currently investigating 16 clusters across all four counties:

>> On Oahu, officials are investigating one cluster at a bar and nightclub with 31 cases, two clusters at restaurants with 14 cases, one cluster at an occupational setting with six cases, one cluster at a social gathering with 10 cases, and four clusters in the other category resulting in 39 case.

>> On Maui County, officials are investigating one cluster at a social gathering that resulted in eight cases.

>> On Hawaii County, officials are investigating one cluster at a correctional facility that resulted in 286 cases and one cluster at a place of worship that resulted in 20 cases.

>> On Kauai County, officials are investigating a cluster with four cases in an educational setting, a shelter cluster that resulted in seven cases, a social gathering cluster with four cases, and a place of worship cluster with seven cases.

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