As Hawaii reports 707 new COVID cases, experts warn of ‘exponential’ spread in coming weeks

-- Authorities are seeking information regarding the fatal shooting of a monk seal on Molokai.
Published: Dec. 21, 2021 at 9:02 AM HST|Updated: Dec. 21, 2021 at 2:39 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii reported 707 new COVID cases Tuesday and no additional fatalities.

The latest infections bring the state’s total number of cases since the start of the pandemic to 94,293.

The death toll from the virus remains at 1,072.

Over the last 14 days, the state says there have been 5,634 cases detected.

Amid an alarming increase in COVID infections, the governor and health leaders are urging the public to be vigilant and take additional precautions such as getting vaccinated or a booster shot.

Of the new infections reported Tuesday:

  • 647 were on Oahu
  • 24 on Maui
  • 9 on Hawaii Island
  • 10 on Kauai
  • 1 on Lanai
  • 1 on Molokai

There were also 15 people diagnosed out of state.

The state is no longer issuing details daily on where COVID deaths occurred, their age ranges, and whether those who died had underlying conditions.

The latest triple-digit count comes a day after the organization that forecasts Hawaii’s COVID cases said it is expecting “exponential” spread, raising concerns among health officials of another surge.

The state’s current seven-day average of cases stands at 634 and analysts are projecting Hawaii could see as many as 15,000 cases daily by Jan. 1.

Hospitalizations are still at a manageable number, but Omicron’s spread is both rapid and alarming.

“This is ridiculous frankly because this is the second time we’ve been caught with our pants down,” said epidemiologist Dr. Tim Brown. “We were caught by Delta because we were told it was coming. We knew it was coming and we watched it spread in other countries, we didn’t do anything about it. We did that again with Omicron.”

In an East-West Center webinar Tuesday, Dr. Brown outlined his frustration and concern with Omicron’s arrival, saying an early lifting of restrictions has contributed to the rise in cases and models compared with Delta show we’re right in the middle of another wave.

“You can see basically how it compares with the Delta wave back in July,” Dr. Brown said. “As you can see, it is rising much much more rapidly. It also shows no signs of being near the peak and yet, we are getting very close to what the Delta peak looked like.”

Fortunately, the rise in cases has not had a correlation with hospitalizations.

Yet, Big Island-based Dr. Kaohimanu Dang-Akiona says even a slight jump for Hawaii County and the rest of the neighbor islands could be overwhelming.

“We have regular stuff that stresses the system and then when you add something like COVID, especially if its preventable,” Dr. Dang-Akiona said. “I think that’s part of getting the word out to get vaccinated.”

Brown has said Omicron has changed the immune landscape, adding a two-dose shot of Pfizer is 35% effective against the strain, but a booster nearly doubles the protection.

So he and health experts agree that a third shot along with gathering safely and vigilant, testing at the first sign of symptoms, remain the best weapons available.

“You don’t want to wait until the tidal wave is on shore to prepare for the tidal wave,” Dr. Dang-Akiona said. “We’re always trying to think of ways that we can put safeguards in place. When we project and we look at worst case scenario and even best case scenario, just another surge in and of itself is gonna be a problem.”

Some 72.4% of the state’s residents are fully vaccinated, while 77.9% have received at least one dose.

This story will be updated.

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