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COVID-19 hospitalizations continue decline, but health officials worry cutting restrictions could cause a spike

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  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / JAN. 2021

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA / JAN. 2021

COVID-19 cases continue to stabilize in Hawaii, related hospitalizations remain manageable and vaccination rates are rising, but there are still few guideposts for when residents will be able to resume life as normal, sans masks and gathering limits.

Dr. Libby Char, director of the Hawaii Department of Health said during the Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight Hawaii” livestream this morning that the state continues to be cautious when it comes to lifting restrictions and fully reopening.

“I look forward to the time when we can all get back to doing what we used to do and socializing and what not,” said Char. “We are being very deliberate to make sure that our case count comes down and is nice and stable.”

Char said that the state is gradually lifting restrictions on outdoor activities which she said were “quite safe,” and then evaluating the effect.

“Indoors, we are trying to do the same thing, but being a lot more cautious because we know that this is much, much higher risk,” said Char.

Char said she expects indoor mask requirements to continue for some time.

In May, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vaccinated Americans could largely ditch masks, both outdoors and in most indoor settings.

President Joe Biden called it a “great day for America.” Hawaii chose not to follow that advice, and the CDC largely changed course in July as the highly contagious delta variant caused cases to spike throughout the country.

Hawaii is among seven states that require people to wear masks in indoor public places, regardless of their vaccination status, according to a tally by the American Association of Retired Persons.

Char said she didn’t expect COVID-19 cases to be reduced to zero in Hawaii, but that she would be more comfortable if the state was recording, on average, fewer than 100 new cases a day.

Hawaii is currently averaging 115 new COVID-19 cases a day, with 1.8% of tests coming back positive. The number of new cases has remained stable since mid-October.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has fallen to 72 from a high of 473 in early September. Statewide, there were just 18 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units and 12 on ventilators.

Ultimately, it is up to Gov. David Ige to decide when to lift restrictions. His latest COVID-19 emergency proclamation, which suspends various laws, and imposes safety restrictions on businesses, travel and social gatherings, remains in effect through the end of November.

The Hawaii Department of Health continues to help coordinate the roll out of vaccines, including booster shots and Pfizer vaccines for kids ages 5 to 11, which are expected to be approved in early November.

On Thursday, the CDC approved booster shots of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for millions of Americans, following approval of boosters of the Pfizer vaccine last month.

As with the Pfizer vaccine, Char said that the boosters are available for people 65 and older, or those who are 18 and older and have certain health conditions. The boosters are also available to adults whose jobs put them at high risk of exposure, such as teachers and health care workers.

The CDC also said that people could choose a different vaccine for their booster than what they initially received. Those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can get a booster two months after their initial shot. The wait is six months for Pfizer and Moderna.

Char said that eventually boosters will likely be available for everyone.

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