The highly transmissible delta variant is sweeping across Hawaii, and coronavirus cases continue to climb, along with the COVID-19 death toll.
On Thursday the state Department of Health reported four new coronavirus-related deaths and 1,068 new infections statewide, bringing the state’s totals since the start of the pandemic to 606 fatalities and 65,025 cases.
The day’s case count includes some not reported Wednesday due to an interruption Monday in the electronic laboratory reporting system.
Two of the deaths occurred on Oahu, one is a Maui case and one is a case from Hawaii island.
The deceased include individuals ranging in age from their 30s to their 50s, 60s and 70s, according to DOH. All were hospitalized, with underlying conditions.
Delta, first detected in Hawaii in June, now accounts for almost all the coronavirus cases in the state, according to a new variant report released this week. The delta variant is not only far more contagious than previous strains, officials said, but can cause more than twice as many infections.
On Thursday, DOH also released a cluster report revealing that a record high of 70 clusters involving 1,374 cases are under investigation in all four major counties, with the lion’s share occurring on Oahu and Maui.
“These reports reinforce what we know about the alarming increase in cases across Hawaii,” said Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char in a news release. “Delta is different — it is twice as transmissible as other variants. COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalization and death, including from the delta variant. It’s critical that Hawaii residents take precautions to stop the rapid spread of COVID-19 and preserve healthcare capacity.”
The cluster report focused on the frequent occurrence of COVID-19 outbreaks at places involving food service workers, including a restaurant chain, a supply delivery by an infected person and a gathering at a karaoke bar.
In July and August health officials investigated two clusters with 40 coronavirus cases at a large restaurant chain on Oahu — with one location in a tourist area and the other in a community with low vaccination rates.
At one, 24 out of 29 exposed employees tested positive for COVID-19.
At the other, 12 out of 24 exposed employees tested positive. Most of the staff was unvaccinated, but eight of the employees who tested positive were fully vaccinated. Another four cases were spread to unvaccinated household members by employees.
In August a food supplier who was infected with COVID-19 dropped off a delivery at an Oahu restaurant. Five out of 21 restaurant employees then got infected. Two of them were vaccinated, or breakthrough cases. One employee also infected a household member.
This restaurant, officials said, had tight working spaces with poor ventilation, which probably contributed to the spread of COVID-19.
But even fully vaccinated people should take precautions, which is the cautionary tale of an outbreak among 12 vaccinated food service workers who got together to sing at a karaoke bar in August.
All were fully vaccinated, but they did not wear masks or socially distance. Seven tested positive.
“Vaccination reduces but does not eliminate the risk of becoming infected and transmitting COVID-19 to others,” said officials in the report. “Everyone should take precautions to prevent COVID-19, including masking in indoor public places.”
Starting Sept. 13, Honolulu County’s Safe Access O‘ahu program goes into effect, requiring all employees, contractors and volunteers of places such as restaurants, bars, gyms and museums, and their patrons, to show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative test.
If not vaccinated, employees would need to be tested weekly, and patrons would have to show a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours of entering an establishment.
Health officials said these policies will help protect the community but that employers should also encourage and incentivize all employees to get vaccinated.
“High vaccination rates make workplaces and communities healthier and safer for everyone,” officials said. “Communities with high vaccination rates help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and the economic consequences of COVID-19 experienced by employers, employees, and the community.”
The pace of COVID-19 vaccination rates, meanwhile, has picked up.
On Thursday the Health Department reported that 63.6% of Hawaii’s population completed vaccinations, while 71.9% received at least one dose. A total of 1,877,187 doses had been administered, 7,191 more than the previous day.
For the week ending Aug. 27, the department reported nearly 27,900 vaccines administered, compared with about 23,100 the prior week and about 14,700 in the last week of July.
The race to get more vaccinated against COVID-19 continues, however, as delta puts a strain on state hospitals.
CORONAVIRUS CLUSTERS AROUND THE STATE
Officials are actively investigating the following clusters in all four major counties:
>> Oahu: Officials are investigating 18 clusters with 480 cases, including two at correctional facilities with 276 cases, five at restaurants with 74 cases, four at food suppliers with 52 cases, four at educational settings with 35 cases and a social gathering that resulted in 13 cases, among others.
>> Maui County: Officials are investigating 44 clusters with 461 cases, including a correctional facility with 122 cases, 10 at educational settings with 92 cases, 12 in travel, lodging and tourism with 90 cases, eight at restaurants with 31 cases, two at food suppliers with 24 cases and seven in the “other” category with 73 cases, among several others in construction and occupational settings.
>> Hawaii County: Officials are investigating only one cluster at the correctional facility with 296 cases.
>> Kauai County: Officials are investigating seven clusters, including a correctional facility with 87 cases, a restaurant with 17 cases, two social gatherings with 18 cases and a place-of-worship cluster with three cases, along with workplaces.
Source: DOH cluster report