Gov. David Ige said Monday that there won’t be another full-scale shutdown in Hawaii, despite the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the islands that have strained the resources of hospitals and prompted the governor earlier this month to sign an executive order shielding health care facilities from liability if they have to ration critical care.
If he does enact more restrictions, Ige said they likely would come in the form of curfews or further restrictions on the size of social gatherings.
But for now, hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients have remained stable, and there are signs that the rapid rise in coronavirus cases is abating. The Department of Health reported 461 new coronavirus infections Monday, bringing the seven- day average for new cases to 567. That’s a 37% drop from where it was two weeks ago, according to state data. The number of COVID-19 tests coming back positive also has declined statewide, to 6.9% Monday from 7.8% two weeks ago.
There were 392 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, compared with 435 people a week ago. The number of people in the intensive care units, which has been of particular concern to health care officials, also has declined, to 79 Monday from more than 100 a week ago.
“It is getting a little better, but I think it is still too early to call it a definite trend that would provide relief,” Ige told the Honolulu Star- Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii livestream program Monday.
State officials have been concerned that there could be a spike in cases as a result of the Labor Day holiday, but gatherings over the three-day weekend appeared muted.
Ige said a significant rise in hospitalizations and patients admitted to the ICU would be the trigger for any new restrictions. In that case he would consider a curfew, which could reduce the number of people coming into emergency rooms as a result of accidents. He also said that he would consider further restricting social gatherings. Currently, social gatherings are restricted to 10 people inside; this could be reduced to five people. The limit outdoors is 25 people, which could be limited to 10.
But Ige was clear that there were no plans for the draconian measures taken in 2020.
“I can pretty much tell you there won’t be another full-scale shutdown,” said Ige, which he attributed in part to the state’s high vaccination rate.
Hawaii’s vaccination rate has been among the highest in the country, and the recent surge in delta cases, coupled with a parade of employer- and government- based vaccine requirements, has given a boost to the pace of vaccinations. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also granted full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last month, which likely helped sway holdouts.
There are just 165,680 eligible Hawaii residents out of a total population of 1.42 million who have not at least initiated the vaccination process, according to state data. Children under age 12 still aren’t eligible for the vaccine.
There is 76.6% of the eligible population in Hawaii now fully vaccinated, while 86.4% of the eligible population has received at least one shot. By comparison, 63% of the eligible U.S. population is fully vaccinated, while 74% has received at least one shot, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ige’s comments reflect a significant shift in public policy relating to the coronavirus. While prior to the vaccine, the focus was on controlling cases, now the emphasis is on ensuring adequate health care resources. In addition to the widespread availability of free vaccines, Ige noted that the treatment for COVID-19 has improved.
“We have much, much better therapeutics, and we definitely know how to treat COVID much better,” he said.
Early in the pandemic, about 7% to 10% of people testing positive for COVID-19 were ending up in the hospital. That rate has declined to 3%, said Ige.
While the state has ample hospital beds, staffing has been a major constraint, prompting the state to bring in an extra 600 nurses and other health care professionals to assist with COVID- 19 patients. A team of 30 clinicians is also set to arrive in the state later this month to help administer monoclonal antibody therapy, which can reduce the severity of the illness in people recently infected with COVID-19. That treatment is already available in hospitals, but the team will help expand access to it.
Ige also said Monday that no hospital in Hawaii has had to implement “crisis standards of care,” in which critical health care could have to be rationed to those most likely to survive.