As Hawaii’s daily new coronavirus cases spiked Friday to a record high, state officials continued to emphasize the urgency of getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
The number of daily new coronavirus cases Friday soared to 622, the highest since the start of the pandemic, according to the state Department of Health. Although the number included some cases not reported Wednesday due to “an electronic lab reporting system interruption,” the three-day average from numbers reported Wednesday to Friday equals 314.
Dr. Elizabeth Char, DOH director, shared the record- high case count on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii livestream show Friday, saying that the daily case counts have trended up dramatically just over the past few weeks — ballooning from the 40s to the 60s range, to above 100 and 200 — and now into the 300s.
“We’re very, very concerned about it, and at this point there’s no real reason to think that the trend will change without us doing something different,” Char said. “I think the message remains we know what works. The No. 1 tool we have for this pandemic is to get vaccinated. We know it’s safe and we know it works.”
Char said the surge could be a wake-up call for those who remain unvaccinated and that DOH has been getting more inquiries in recent days about where to get vaccinated.
There are now hundreds of places statewide offering free COVID-19 vaccines on a walk-in basis, including neighborhood pharmacies and pop-up clinics at schools and shopping.
“Now’s the time. Don’t wait,” she said. “There’ve been over 3 billion shots given. We know this is safe, we know it’s effective. Please go get vaccinated.”
The spike is driven by the highly transmissible delta variant, now the dominant strain in Hawaii as well as the nation.
Char said there is widespread community transmission at gatherings where people are not wearing masks, including restaurants and bars, as well as traveling residents who got infected and spread it at home.
“We’re seeing more spread through people who have symptoms even if they’re minor, being out and about, going to work, mingling with family members and spreading the virus,” she said. “So get vaccinated, wear your mask, stay home if you’re sick, and avoid large gatherings.”
Gov. David Ige called the three-day average of more than 300 cases alarming and also emphasized the need to continue safety measures everyone has known for the past year and a half.
“The pandemic is not over, and the best way forward is for people to get vaccinated,” Ige said. “We do know that the vaccinations are safe. It’s the best way to keep our community healthy and safe, so if you haven’t been vaccinated, please do so.”
The seven-day average of daily news cases Friday reached 230, a 148% jump from two weeks ago, according to DOH, and the positivity rate was 5.1%.
Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in the state surpassed 100 Tuesday and continued to rise over the week. The number of hospitalizations rose from 114 on Thursday to 117 on Friday, which included 23 in intensive care units and 12 on ventilators.
Ige did not have a specific benchmark for when he would reinstate restrictions in the state, saying that he is in constant communication with hospitals to check on their capacity and their use of intensive care units and ventilators.
“We have ample capacity at this point in time,” he said. “If we can’t stop the increases in the COVID cases, then at some point in time I will have to reenact restrictions to stop the spread of COVID in the state.”
He said there are now better therapeutics and drugs to treat the infection than the same time last year, and better outcomes.
Ige did not commit, either, to requiring state workers to prove they are vaccinated or undergo weekly testing as the federal government and other states have done, saying it is under evaluation.
Mayor Rick Blangiardi called the latest case count “sobering” and concerning that those infected include the fully vaccinated and more children.
“The City and County of Honolulu is at a crossroad: To all who remain unvaccinated, I urge you to get vaccinated,” Blangiardi said in a statement. “The science and data show that the unvaccinated people are primarily the ones who are spreading the virus and infecting others, including to vaccinated individuals. In addition, unvaccinated individuals are hit hardest with the disease, are more likely to require hospitalization, and are dying as a result of the virus. For the sake of the City, your family and friends, and your fellow residents of our City, get vaccinated. It’s safe, it’s free; it’s fast; it saves lives.”
Blangiardi said the city also is considering requiring city employees to attest to being fully vaccinated or be subject to regular testing.
“We at the City are committed to be models of responsible citizenship and aloha and will take the lead in stopping the spread of the virus and variant for the sake of our island and our residents,” he said.
An internal report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, warned that the delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox, The New York Times reported, and is more likely to break through protections given by the COVID-19 vaccines.
The report also found that fully vaccinated individuals with breakthrough infections carry just as much virus as those who are unvaccinated. This is what prompted the CDC’s reversal earlier this week and recommendation that everyone wear masks at public settings indoors, whether vaccinated or not.
Hawaii never dropped its indoor mask mandate.
Char said that while there have been breakthrough cases among vaccinated residents, they make up only about 0.06%, or roughly 6 out of 10,000 people, in the state. As more people get vaccinated, she said, the number of breakthrough cases will also rise.
Those getting infected and hospitalized with COVID-19 in Hawaii are still primarily unvaccinated, she said. Those who have been vaccinated will still fare much better and lessen their chances of serious illness, hospitalization or death.
One key change that residents should be aware of, she said, is that the CDC now recommends people who are fully vaccinated get tested three to five days after exposure to COVID-19.
When asked, Char also said that with the “advent of the delta variant,” the state might now need to vaccinate more than 70% of its population against the coronavirus to reach herd immunity.
“It really is a good demonstration that the virus determines what herd immunity is and what keeps us safe,” she said. “I think the number is likely going to be higher, that we will need more people to be fully vaccinated and protected against the virus in order to have a safe community.”
It also serves as a reminder that Hawaii is not isolated, but affected by what happens around the globe.
“As long as there’s a significant amount of disease in the rest of the world, it’s going to be hard for us as a state or even as a nation to isolate from that,” she said. “Until the rest of the world has decent control over this virus, we will continue to see spikes and spreads.”
Ige, however, said he had no plans to change the state’s 70% target goal, which he set as the benchmark for removing essentially all remaining travel and COVID-19-related restrictions.
On Friday the Health Department reported 60.1% of Hawaii’s population is now fully vaccinated, while 66.8% received at least one dose.