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Hawaii health officials hope surge in COVID cases will motivate more to get vaccinated

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                The state Department of Health reported 243 new coronavirus infections Thursday. Above, the Hawaii Pacific Health vaccine clinic check-in at Pier 2 was empty Thursday.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    The state Department of Health reported 243 new coronavirus infections Thursday. Above, the Hawaii Pacific Health vaccine clinic check-in at Pier 2 was empty Thursday.

As Hawaii’s COVID case numbers, fueled by the now-dominant delta variant, surged into the triple digits for the eighth day in a row, leaping to 243 cases plus three deaths, state health officials said Thursday that while the news was sad and disturbing, they hoped it would serve as a wake-up call and motivate residents to get vaccinated right away.

It’s been happening elsewhere in the U.S.: White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters Thursday that residents of some states with the highest percentages of new cases, such as Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada, have begun getting vaccinated at higher rates than the nation as a whole; more than 56% of Americans age 12 and older have been fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With 36% of Louisiana’s population fully vaccinated, the state is experiencing a surge, recording its third- highest level of cases Wednesday; hospitalizations have also risen steeply, but the health system that serves Louisiana and Mississippi said it had also seen a 10% to 15% increase in people seeking vaccination over the past week or two.

The Hawaii Department of Health says 59.5% statewide are fully vaccinated but that rates have stalled, and Gov. David Ige says restrictions will not be lifted until 70% of residents are fully vaccinated.

Asked Thursday whether there were indications the surge in cases might be spurring more Hawaii people to seek shots, department spokesman Brooks Baehr replied it was too early to tell, but there were hopeful signs.

From a high of 88,367 vaccinations administered for the week ending May 14, Baehr said, levels steadily declined to 39,410 for the week ending June 4, when the state’s HI Got Vaccinated outreach and incentive campaign launched.

Vaccinations then rose to 46,249 for the week ending June 11 but dropped to 16,250 the week ending July 9.

But the possible good news, Baehr said, was that for the next week, ending July 16, the number of shots administered remained level instead of dropping, even ticking up a bit, to 16,935.

“Over the past couple of weeks, it is possible that this increase in cases and all the news of the fast-spreading delta variant has been some motivation (for getting vaccinated),” Baehr said.

“I’m just encouraged that we had 16,000 two weeks ago and stayed at 16,000, haven’t declined further,” he added. “But am I happy? Absolutely not. Lanai has reached 70%, and we can all do the same — and we must if we want to save lives and pull out of this pandemic.”

Dr. Edward Desmond, administrator of the department’s Hawaii State Labor­atories Division, said a significant new English public health study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed “our vaccines are highly effective” against the delta variant.

“Everybody who hasn’t been vaccinated should be, as soon as possible,” said Dr. Janet Berreman, Kauai district health officer, noting the vaccines are safe, free and readily available.

“The situation is really urgent,” she said.

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