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Hawaii sees rise in COVID-19 positivity amid variant spread

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                                An intake specialist works on testing samples for COVID-19 at Honolulu airport in August 2022. The Hawaii Department of Health reports an increase in COVID-19 positivity rates over the last several weeks.
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An intake specialist works on testing samples for COVID-19 at Honolulu airport in August 2022. The Hawaii Department of Health reports an increase in COVID-19 positivity rates over the last several weeks.

The Hawaii Department of Health has tracked consecutive increases in COVID-19 positivity rates over the past five weeks as new variants take hold in the islands.

Health officials today reported an average positivity rate of 10.5%, up from 8.5% the previous week. On May 1, the average positivity rate was at 4.3%.

DOH in its latest variant report noted that the “FLiRT” variants, including KP.1.1, KP.2 and KP.3 have been present in the state since mid-April. The FLiRT variants — named after the technical names for their mutations — are descendants of JN.1, which was dominant in the U.S. earlier this year.

The mutations potentially make the variants more immune-evasive by improving their binding ability to cells, and could possibly drive a wave of new COVID cases this summer, according to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

State health officials, meanwhile, are warning that COVID activity is on the rise, based on DOH’s new respiratory disease activity dashboard.

The dashboard, developed by the department’s Disease Outbreak Control Division, provides a snapshot of current respiratory disease activity statewide, including COVID, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Currently, COVID is at the yellow, or medium activity level, meaning the virus is circulating at higher levels than would be expected based on historic trends.

Flu and RSV remain at green, or low activity levels, and overall acute respiratory disease is at the medium level.

“The new Respiratory Disease dashboard provides, in one place, a summary of what is happening with several major respiratory viruses that contribute to respiratory disease in Hawaii, state Epidemiologist Sarah Kemble said in a news release. “This helps people make informed decisions about their health.”

“This week, the dashboard shows that COVID-19 test positivity is higher than expected and climbing,” she continued, “and that ED (emergency department) visits and hospital admissions for COVID-19 are also going up. Based on this information, I would recommend checking whether you’ve had the 2023-24 COVID-19 vaccine, and if not, or if you’re eligible for a repeat dose, go get it today.”

In February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recommended an additional dose of current COVID vaccines for Americans ages 65 and older who had received one in the fall.

Based on CDC’s wastewater data, the current levels of the coronavirus in Hawaii are on the rise, and at a high level.

State hospitalizations have also been on the rise, with 55 COVID patients reported May 22, up from 27 two weeks ago.

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