As vaccine rollout continues, Hawaii grapples with increase in COVID-19 cases

Updated: Jan. 7, 2021 at 4:55 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Social gatherings over the holidays are to blame for a recent spike in new COVID-19 infections, Lt. Gov. Green said.

On Thursday, the state saw 322 new COVID-19 cases, the highest single-day increase since Sept. 2.

Green said the case count is directly linked to social gatherings over the Christmas and the New Year’s holidays. He’s asking the public to refrain from any kind of get-togethers for the next two weeks.

The total number of active COVID-19 cases in the state is 1,831.

It’s a number that represents a growing strain on Hawaii’s healthcare system. Over the past two weeks, COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased 77%.

“We have about 105 people in the hospital,” Green said. “Let me break it down. We need to have a pause on social gatherings for two weeks in order to protect our hospitals.”

Meanwhile, the state is just beginning to ramp up its vaccination effort.

“While we want everyone to get vaccinated. And people are getting vaccinated. It’s not helping with our case count yet,” said Hilton Raethel, head of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

He said about 30,000 people in the islands have gotten the shot. The majority have been frontline caregivers and first responders, as well as some people living in long-term care facilities.

He estimates it will take about two months to immunize enough people to have some impact on community spread. That’s if the state receives sufficient doses of the vaccine.

“Once we get a couple hundred thousand people vaccinated, that’s certainly going to help because you’re breaking down the chain of transmission,” Raethel said.

Newly-inaugurated Mayor Rick Blangiardi declined HNN’s request for an interview Thursday.

In a statement, he said:

“The health and safety of everyone here on Oahu is our number one priority. While today’s bump in cases is concerning, I’m confident that we will be able to move forward in a way that is calculated and based on science. A surge in cases was anticipated by our health experts following the holiday season but it’s what we do now that will determine how devastating an impact this will have on our island in the weeks and months to come.”

Green said he’s in close community with the mayor and is on the same page. “I did alert him I was going to ask for a pause on social gatherings,” he said.

DOH confirms the highly contagious UK strain of the coronavirus has not yet been detected in the islands. However, Green said there is some suspicion the South African strain might be circulating in Hawaii. He said it’s not more contagious but is more resistant to antibody treatments.

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