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‘These are not statistics’: Deadliest month of the pandemic in Hawaii comes to a close with 193 fatalities

Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 2:27 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 1, 2021 at 5:37 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - September is ending on a grim note in the fight against COVID.

Twelve additional deaths were reported Thursday, on the last day of the deadliest month of the pandemic in Hawaii.

From Sept. 1 through Thursday, the state reported 193 COVID fatalities. That means 1 in 4 COVID deaths in Hawaii since the pandemic’s start in March 2020 were reported this month.

By comparison, there were 52 deaths in August, 20 in July and 17 in June.

“That is a very, very high death rate in one month,” said Tim Brown, East-West Center senior fellow. “These are not statistics, these are family who have died leaving the family behind and grieving.”

And Hawaii isn’t out of the woods yet, experts warn.

“I think we’re going to continue to see the death rates rise through about the middle of October,” said Lisa Rantz, president of the Hawaii State Rural Health Association.

“We are seeing the projections as we see the case counts decline.”

To put things in context, 193 people would nearly fill the inter-island Airbus A321 NEOs.

The vast majority of those who were hospitalized and who died were unvaccinated. And, state Health Department officials note, there were more young people in their ranks than during previous waves.

Health Department spokesman Brooks Baehr noted that while most of those who have died had “underlying conditions,” that large category can include everything from a history of cancer or heart disease to high blood pressure. Pregnancy is even considered an “underlying condition.”

“They are not underlying conditions that should condemn a person to death,” he said.

“Unfortunately, that is how COVID has changed the game and that’s how the Delta variant has changed the game. We’ve seen way too much death lately from COVID.”

Hawaii’s latest surge of COVID cases, mostly all from the Delta variant, peaked in August to early September ― when the case counts were in the 800s.

Experts says high death rates lag about two to four weeks behind high case counts.

“Typically what they find is the average is around 17 to 18 days from the time when you start getting symptoms or get diagnosed until you die,” said Brown.

“Any death of that sort is a real shame. We often lose sight of the human dimension of this.”

Authorities added the situation is all the more discouraging because so many of the deaths are preventable. “They can be prevented by people being vaccinated, and by people masking up and still maintaining a little distance,” said Baehr.

As of Thursday, 67.9% of the state’s population was vaccinated. Oahu had the highest vaccination rate, at 70%. Maui County had the lowest ― 60%

Meanwhile, 76.1% of the population had gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. The number of individuals who are eligible for the vaccine but remain unvaccinated stands at about 133,000.

“There is way too much death, way too much suffering, way too many people in the hospital,” Baehr said. “It’s absolutely tragic but preventable. Let’s prevent it.”

In the meantime, those on the frontlines of the pandemic continue to help the sick.

Laura Reichhardt, director of the Hawaii State Center for Nursing, said many nurses now “feel abandoned by their community ― feeling like the community hasn’t responded by reducing their exposures or getting vaccine or even getting this recognition.”

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