State: Delta variant, increased travel behind Hawaii’s recent surge in COVID infections

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Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 4:31 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 22, 2021 at 5:39 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lt. Gov. Josh Green is renewing the call for people to mask up.

He’s also urging the public to avoid all gatherings for the next two weeks. The warnings come after the state reported 243 new COVID infections Thursday, the highest daily case total since early January.

In a news briefing, health officials called the case count “a wake-up call” and predicted the surge will get worse if more people don’t get vaccinated as the more transmissible delta variant spreads rapidly in the community.

“Last year, the blip after the Fourth of July was a tiny blip and went away very rapidly,” said Dr. Janet Berreman, the Health Department’s Kauai district health officer. “This year, after the Fourth of July, what we’re seeing is rapid and exponential rise. And it is showing no signs of diminishing.”

State health officials say while the holiday did contribute to the recent surge in COVID cases, there are two other factors playing a much larger role: The Delta variant and increased travel.

“It’s largely by residents traveling to the mainland and coming home,” said Berreman.

Green says 78% of all recent cases have been through community transmission.

“Twenty percent have been from our own returning residents who were not vaccinated and caught COVID,” he added. “Two percent were among vacationers.”

On Thursday morning, Green urged the public to take extra precaution.

“I think this is the time for everyone to take a two-week pause and lay low. Irrespective of the allowed numbers for gatherings. Irrespective for the people’s desire perhaps to have outdoor gatherings,” he said. “This is the time to have a quiet two weeks and let these numbers settle down.”

The virus is spreading among children and teens, too.

Of Thursday’s 243 cases, 27% were among those under the age of 18.

The state Health Department didn’t have information about how many of those children were under 12 and so are ineligible for the vaccine.

“The disease is not contained to a particular type of setting or a particular geographic location in our state,” said Berreman. “We are seeing widespread community transmission. Associated with that we are seeing clusters that are widely distributed as well.”

But there is something that the vast majority of those cases do have in common.

“They are unvaccinated people who are not wearing masks indoors. And they are unvaccinated people who are traveling,” said Department of Health spokesperson Brooks Baehr.

Health officials say the public has the power to slow the spread of the virus.

“Our vaccines are highly effective against the delta variant,” said Dr. Edward Desmond, head of the state Laboratories Division.

Berreman added, “The most important bottom line is that everyone who hasn’t already been vaccinated should do so as soon as possible. The situation is really urgent.”

Vaccines are offered at pharmacies and other location across the state. Anyone 12 and up can get the shot for free.

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