Hawaii on Friday marked the ninth consecutive day of triple-digit infections, with 233 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases.
It was pretty close to Thursday’s spike to 243 new cases, the highest single-day count since early January, and was the second day in a row that daily coronavirus cases breached the 200 mark.
State health officials say the alarming increase in daily case counts is due to the highly transmissible delta variant and the spread of the virus mostly by unvaccinated individuals, including residents traveling to the mainland.
During the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii livestream show Friday, Lt. Gov. Josh Green called once again for a two-week pause of social gatherings in the state, warning those who remain unvaccinated that they are most at risk.
“Big picture, the delta variant is infectious. It’s very, very contagious,” Green said. “It’s spreading all over the country. Virtually every state is seeing a rise.”
Those who remain unvaccinated against COVID-19, in particular, should not have any gatherings of any size, he said, and everyone should recommit to masking indoors.
The state’s average positivity rate, which indicates rate of transmission, also rose to 4.1% Friday from 3.9% Thursday, according to the Health Department dashboard. The seven-day average of cases Friday rose to 144, up from 135 Thursday.
The positivity rate just two weeks ago was at 2%, Green said, so the jump to 4% Friday means those unvaccinated are “twice as likely to encounter a case of COVID and catch it.”
Although cases are rising and will continue to do so, Green said the state is in better shape this year because roughly two-thirds of the population is fairly well protected by vaccinations.
He does not, however, favor bringing back restrictions at this time and as long as hospitalization rates remain manageable. The number of people hospitalized this week hovered around the 70s, he said, but if they spike to above 300 as they did during the surge in August, then that would be cause for concern.
“We have to incorporate that consideration very carefully into what we’re doing because shutting down the state for people who are having, yes, positive cases of delta but not being particularly sick is not the way to go,” he said. “Hawaii has to survive. We have so many people who have to get back to their lives.”
This includes getting kids back to school, he said, because sacrificing another year of developmental milestones would be difficult to retrieve.
Health officials earlier this week also said they are seeing younger patients in their 20s and 30s, unvaccinated, landing in hospitals with COVID-19. Those patients, as reported by the Star-Advertiser, include a 23-year-old and 32-year old who are in intensive care units.
Green said while these younger patients are more likely to pull through, they should not be in the hospital at all when they are young and healthy, and could have avoided it if they had gotten vaccinated against the coronavirus.
On Thursday the Health Department said 66 of the 243 cases, or 27%, were children under age 18, but did not have a breakdown of how many were under 12, the group not yet eligible for vaccines.
Going forward, Green said he expects roughly 20% to 25% of new cases will be among those under age 18, and that as a father himself with a daughter, age 14, and son, age 10, he will recommend that younger kids get vaccinated once they become available.
While children do not generally get serious illness from the virus, health officials said they are still susceptible and can get long-term symptoms. Green said he was not aware of any children under 12 having landed in Hawaii hospitals at this time.
Vaccination rates in the state, meanwhile, have declined from a high of some 88,000 doses given per week in the spring to just about 15,000 to 16,000 per week now, according to health officials — and it remains unknown whether delta will provide further incentive.
On Friday the Health Department’s dashboard indicated a tenth of a percentage point progress, with 59.5% of the state’s population having completed vaccinations, while 66% received at least one dose.
Green said he is proposing the state offer a simple $50 cash card as further incentive to move the needle further toward Hawaii’s 70% goal.
The $50 gift card would be offered to every person who receives a COVID-19 shot as well as to those who bring two people to a vaccination site. It could be set up in a drive-thru format, he said, using state emergency response funds.
The state’s vaccination incentives campaign, meanwhile, continues to nudge people to get vaccinated with a second round of prizes this week, including cash prizes of up to $5,000 apiece for three winners from American Savings Bank.
The contest is open to all Hawaii residents ages 18 and up who have received at least one shot of the Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.