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Forecast models predict COVID-19 case surge will hit Maui County next

While Honolulu and Hawaii counties are already in the midst of a surge in daily new coronavirus cases, Maui County is next, according to a forecast by the Hawaii Pandemic Applied Modeling Work Group.

Based on the latest forecast model issued Sunday, the number of daily new infections on Maui County is expected to grow by more than 30% in the next seven days, and peak at 175 cases on Sept. 1.

Maui is about two weeks behind Honolulu County, according to the forecast, but is showing signs of catching up.

Today, the Hawaii Department of Health reported one new death and 96 new confirmed and probable infections on Maui, two on Molokai and two on Lanai. The 7-day average for new cases for Maui County is at 84, 45% higher than on Aug. 10, with a positivity rate of 7.4%.

“With regards to COVID, obviously the eye of the storm is here for Oahu and the Big Island, but for Maui, they’re nearing the eye,” said HiPAM co-chair Thomas Lee. “The initial part of the eye may be passing over them, but they have the ability, if they take action now, to drastically lessen the impacts.”

The number of hospitalizations on Maui is expected to follow, according to a second forecast model, and predicted to increase about 25% to 76 on Sept. 1.

There have been no signs of the spread slowing, said Lee, but the course of this storm of coronavirus cases can still change with mitigations.

The models are based on the current data available, along with science and trends, and are adjusted every time there is a major shift in vaccination rates or policy, which is an ever-evolving situation, he said.

Each county is different, but what was factored into the models is that Maui County has the lowest vaccination rate out of all four major counties, with only 56% of the isle’s population fully vaccinated.

But the prediction can change, he said, if the behavior of people on Maui changes, if more people get vaccinated or avoid gathering to prevent more surges and hospitalizations.

An increase in the vaccination rate of 5% to 6% for Maui County could have a huge impact on the current forecast model, he said.

The delta variant has “changed the calculus” on the rules and regulations that went out during the pandemic last year.

“It replicates faster than last year’s strain, and even fully vaccinated individuals can have a similar viral load,” he said.

Masking remains a very important prevention tool. High-quality face masks can further reduce the risk, especially for those who are unvaccinated against COVID-19, he said. This goes for outdoor, face-to-face encounters, as well as indoors.

“If you’re vaccinated, you still have to wear a mask,” he said. “Masking in combination with vaccines, reducing gathering sizes, all work together to reduce further transmission.”

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino on Tuesday urged residents to get vaccinated, particularly with the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine for individuals ages 16 and older.

He also urged residents and visitors alike to voluntarily curb non-essential activities and gatherings for the next 21 days. He asked visitors to remain at their hotel properties, and to not circulate or gather outside of their resort bubbles — in particular, not to go to Hana. He also asked employers to consider reinstating work-at-home policies.

“This is not rocket science, everyone,” said Victorino. “It’s real simple. We’ve got to step it up again.”

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