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As cases spike, epidemiologists and policymakers clash on response to Omicron

Despite Hawaii’s current surge, no major restrictions have been reimplemented — except a limit on indoor gatherings on Hawaii Island.
Published: Dec. 31, 2021 at 3:27 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 31, 2021 at 3:29 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Despite Hawaii’s current surge, no major restrictions have been reimplemented — except a limit on indoor gatherings on Hawaii Island.

Compared to the Delta surge, Omicron has presented a new pandemic dynamic as policymakers say the state’s hospitals can handle the spike, while health experts fear politicians are taking this too lightly.

“Our curve is just shooting straight up right now,” said epidemiologist and East-West Center senior fellow, Tim Brown. “We are in a surge unlike anything we have seen before, and it is irresponsible of public officials not to step in and basically try and stop that surge.”

In an interview with Hawaii News Now on Friday, Brown sounded the alarm on Omicron and called for the shutdown of bars, nightclubs and large events.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green acknowledges Omicron is more contagious, but less severe than Delta — saying Omicron generates five times fewer hospitalizations.

“From a medical standpoint, it’s gonna spread a lot because we’re gonna spread it when we cough or sneeze or have a runny nose near people,” Green said. “There are gonna be parties for New Year’s Eve, but there should be far fewer overall hospitalizations comparatively.”

However, Brown contends it’s premature to make an estimate on how hospitals would be impacted.

“We are adding a whole lot of new infections every day right now and so, it is far too early to say what’s going to happen two to three weeks from now,” Brown said.

Citing a lack of testing capacity, Brown also estimates the actual number of infections could be two or three times higher than what’s being reported.

While Green recognizes high case numbers, he reinforces boosters are the key to limiting the damage.

“Only 351,000 people have gotten a booster,” Green explained. “There’s another 500,000 people that could get it and protect themselves and we need to do that in the next 45 days, so that we don’t continuously have people in the ICU.”

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