Experts: COVID now spreading more quickly among Hawaii’s unvaccinated

Top stories from across Hawaii and around the world, as seen on the 4 p.m. news broadcast from Hawaii News Now.
Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 3:54 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 21, 2021 at 2:34 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - From hospitals to pop-up clinics and pharmacies across the state, it’s easier than ever to get a COVID vaccine. But despite extraordinary access, 40% of Hawaii residents remain unvaccinated ― and the virus is spreading quickly among them.

“We could do the calculation and what it tells us is right now we’ve got the same level of infection in our unvaccinated population that we had in our total population before the vaccines became available,” said Hilton Raethel, CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

On Tuesday, 70 patients were hospitalized statewide.

That’s about a quarter of what it was last year during the peak of the pandemic.

Health officials say one of the reasons fewer people are ending up in the hospital is because overall the people catching the virus are younger and healthier.

But with the Delta variant rapidly spreading in the community, the capacity of Hawaii’s healthcare system remains a concern.

“The Delta variant is approximately 225% more transmissible,” Raethel said.

“There are hospitals on the mainland that are already being stretched. They’re running into issues with shortages of staff, with shortages of ventilators. We do not want to get to that situation in Hawaii.”

Concerns about the spread of COVID is prompting a new debate among local leaders and physicians about whether the COVID vaccine should be a requirement for those who work in certain professions.

“I think that we absolutely need to get mandatory on some of these things and you are seeing that trend across the country,” said Dr. Julius Pham, an anesthesiologist.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green says he’d prefer to win people over with good science.

“When you have about 20% of a population that is very reluctant or philosophically opposed to vaccinations, when you go down the road of mandates you’re probably going to create more conflict than actual compliance,” Green said.

So far this week, about 15,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered statewide.

A total of 59.3% of Hawaii’s entire population is fully vaccinated and 65.7% have at least one dose.

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