Kauai County, whose record against COVID-19 has been the best in the state, hit a record number of cases Thursday and is projected to see a further spike in the coming weeks.
The Garden Isle reported a high of 55 new coronavirus infections that included one visitor and 12 children. Eight of the cases are related to travel, according to the county, while the remaining 47 are considered community-acquired.
“The delta variant continues to spread widely in our community,” said Mayor Derek Kawakami during Thursday’s briefing. “A majority of our cases are residents who are close contacts of previously announced cases or known active clusters.”
The new cases differ from those reported by the state Department of Health, which on Thursday reported 33 cases on Kauai, which is what the Kauai District Health Office independently reported for Wednesday.
The Hawaii Pandemic Applied Modeling Work Group included Kauai in its latest forecast released Monday due to the larger number of COVID-19 cases. Although the transmission rate is still highest on Oahu, HiPAM noted an alarming trend of higher positivity rates and lower testing rates on Kauai, and said the isle should be “very closely monitored.”
Kauai is likely to see a sharp increase in the next week or so, according to HiPAM, with an upward trajectory since early July.
Still, out of all four major counties, Kauai is doing comparatively well, with a lower seven-day average of 39 new cases, and a positivity rate of 5.3%, according to the Health Department’s dashboard. Case counts and positivity rates on Kauai still remain lower than Honolulu, Maui or Hawaii county but has been on an upward trajectory, with a 30% increase over the past 14 days.
Dr. Janet Berreman, Kauai district health officer, said daily coronavirus cases have been growing rapidly on the isle since the beginning of August due to the highly transmissible delta variant and that the county will be monitoring trends closely in upcoming weeks.
“It’s certainly delta,” said Berreman. “We’re a little behind the rest of the state, and the state is a little behind the mainland, but we’re seeing the same impact of delta becoming the dominant strain. It’s so much more transmissible that it takes over very rapidly, and it spreads like wildfire.”
Hospitalization of COVID-19 patients has remained stable, at about three to four at a time on the island, she said. But Kauai recorded its ninth death over the Labor Day weekend: a female resident in her 70s who had been hospitalized.
Since the start of the pandemic last year, according to Berreman, only two COVID- 19 deaths had been reported for Kauai, but that number grew by seven since August.
“That’s when most of our cases happened,” she said, “which also reflects that those cases are primarily among unvaccinated people who are more likely to have severe disease, be hospitalized and, unfortunately, more likely to have fatal outcomes.”
In addition, Kauai does not have the same level of restrictions as in 2020.
Kawakami said Thursday that the county does not have a vaccine verification requirement to enter businesses such as restaurants, but will continue to enforce masking and group size limits. Under a new emergency order issued last week, businesses and event planners can be fined $500, and individuals $250, for violating COVID-19 safety rules.
Also, he said three of the 55 new coronavirus cases either did not respond, or refused to provide information, to DOH contact tracers. Thus, the sources of infection for those three cases remains unknown.
In earlier briefings he urged residents to cooperate with DOH contact tracers.
“If the DOH contact tracers call you, please get back to them right away so we can slow the spread of the disease,” he said in an earlier briefing. “Help them help us. They are serving our community and deserve our respect.”
Berreman said despite additional hiring, the higher volume of new coronavirus cases now makes reaching every person more challenging.
Calls are still made to every case on the island, as well as their close contacts, she said. However, there is not as much bandwidth now to repeatedly call those who do not return calls or voicemail messages, or to reach everyone as quickly as before.
HiPAM projected in its forecast model that daily case counts on Kauai will increase up to 55, which it reached Thursday, by Sept. 20, with the best-case scenario of more vaccinations and lower transmission, but up to 93 in the worst-case scenario, with lower vaccinations and higher transmission..
The daily case counts also could land in between, with up to 72 cases by Sept. 20, assuming there are no changes in vaccination or transmission rates.
In all three scenarios, however, the cases still trend upward.
Currently, 63% of Kauai’s population of about 72,000 is fully vaccinated, while 69% received at least one dose.
Testing on Kauai is also in high demand.
Due to long lines at the free testing site at Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall, the county Tuesday implemented a first-come, first-served ticketing system. Beginning at 8 a.m. each weekday, staff distribute a limited number of tickets with a specific time to return so people do not have to stand in line.
Free COVID-19 tests are also available from the county’s mobile testing van and at Lihue Pharmacy, among other options. More information is available at kauai.gov/COVIDtest.