As the Omicron surge subsides, experts ponder what’s next in the pandemic

While most states, including California, move toward dropping their mask mandates, face coverings are still required in Hawaii.
Published: Feb. 15, 2022 at 5:57 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 15, 2022 at 7:37 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - While most states, including California, move toward dropping their mask mandates, face coverings are still required in Hawaii.

But with cases on the decline, experts say the state is moving into a different point in the pandemic.

The state Department of Health reported just under 300 coronavirus infections Tuesday and over the last two weeks, DOH has seen a 66% drop in cases.

These are promising developments that have health officials confident in saying the worst of Omicron is over, but cautious in saying Hawaii is at the finish line of the pandemic.

“We had a lot of stress in the state, but we are very hopeful that we’re on that downward slope and we are looking at the end of at least the most significant phases of this pandemic,” Healthcare Association of Hawaii President and CEO Hilton Raethel said.

Despite the Omicron surge yielding record case counts and hospitalizations last month, the Hawaii Pandemic Applied Modeling Group says its projections show the state has moved past Omicron and numbers are expected to remain low.

“Cases will continue to decrease, hospitalizations will continue to decrease, and at that point once again, downward trend we’re always happy to see,” said HiPAM co-chair Thomas Lee. “A few weeks ago, we were unsure if we were going to plateau or if we were going to trend down, but it appears, we’re going to continue to trend down.”

With 75% of the state’s population fully vaccinated, epidemiologist DeWolfe Miller also feels Hawaii has weathered the Omicron strain, but is wary of how viruses behave and says mutation is always in the works.

“The virus is trying to adapt to a better way of being able to replicate through the population without killing its host and this is classic virology,” Miller explained. “Over time the viruses slowly adapt, so they can propagate.”

Right now, HiPAM says there are currently no variants of concern on their radar and if one emerges, the hope is that severity continues to decrease.

“We look at what’s on the horizon and right now, nothing appears to be concerning right now and then what we factor in is if we were to get another variant, what is it going to look like?” Lee said.

When asked about a potential end to restrictions, Gov. David Ige’s office said Tuesday that there are currently no changes to announce — masking will remain in place and the DOH continues to work on conditions to end the Safe Travels program.

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