Hawaii heads into New Year’s festivities with record case counts

Health experts fear that bringing in the New Year in a big way could fuel omicron infections.
Published: Dec. 30, 2021 at 9:06 AM HST|Updated: Dec. 31, 2021 at 9:16 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii reported a record 3,484 new COVID cases Thursday, as a surge in new infections ― driven by the highly transmissible Omicron mutation ― continued and experts braced for even higher case counts in the wake of New Year’s celebrations both large and small.

It’s the first time the state has seen more than 3,000 new infections in a single day.

And officials are quick to note the number doesn’t include positives from at-home COVID tests.

State Department of Health officials have urged residents to avoid large gatherings and to take precautions heading into the New Year’s holiday, but only Hawaii County has instituted new restrictions ― limiting get-togethers indoors to 10 people rather than 25.


On Oahu, which saw 2,680 new infections on Thursday, there are no new COVID rules in place.

Instead, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi has called on people to use their own judgment to protect themselves and to limit their exposure. He’s also asked nightclubs to voluntarily curtail dancing on New Year’s Eve ― and noted that cancellations were already happening even without restrictions in place.

“It’s about personal responsibility,” Blangiardi said, in a news conference Wednesday, pushing back against growing calls to put limits on some activities and promising to “drop the hammer” if hospitalizations soar to numbers that put the health care infrastructure at risk.

“We will be nimble as a city administration. We will not allow our hospitals to get overrun.”

Later in the day, state Health Director Dr. Libby Char said she supported restrictions on high-risk activities. “We are in the middle of a pandemic,” she said. The Healthcare Association of Hawaii and Lt. Gov. Josh Green have also called for mayors to step in to rein in the high case counts.

Even without government mandates, more people are thinking about scaling back their New Year’s Eve celebrations — if they’re having one at all.

“We usually go out to eat and then come back before New Year’s and then celebrate and watch the fireworks. Basically just get together with the family,” said Honolulu resident Anne Salvador.

This year, she said she’ll stay at home with her husband for the night.

“I have an 85-year-old parent that’s the trifecta: she’s heart condition, kidneys and diabetic,” said Kehau Shayler after completing her shopping Thursday. “So of course we’re not going to do the things we normally do, which is get a huge gathering of all our family members, eating plenty Hawaiian food and pop lots of fireworks.”

Shayler said the normal celebration would involve nearly 30 family members. This year, there will only be four.

The new confirmed cases Thursday bring the statewide total to 109,642.

Over the past 14 days, the state says there have been 18,826 cases confirmed.

Meanwhile, there were no additional deaths reported. The state’s death toll stands at 1,085.

Of the new infections reported Thursday:

  • 2,680 were on Oahu
  • 334 on Maui
  • 242 on Hawaii Island
  • 147 on Kauai
  • 21 on Molokai
  • 1 on Lanai

There were also 59 people diagnosed out of state.

As case counts have soared, so have test positivity rates and hospitalizations.

There are now about 139 people hospitalized with COVID statewide. That’s up from 77 a week ago. Meanwhile, about 16% of COVID tests are now coming back positive.

Health experts are blaming the Omicron variant for the skyrocketing case counts, and they warn Hawaii has not yet peaked in this latest wave. The seven-day average for infections for the state is up more than 437% over the last two weeks. And no county has been spared the swift rise in infections.

Officials say in addition to avoiding gatherings and wearing a mask, residents should get a booster shot because immunity wanes and the first two shots are not as effective against Omicron. Some 74.1% of the state’s residents are fully vaccinated, while 24.7% of the population has received a third dose.

This story will be updated.

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