Hawaii starts tracking reinfections in hopes of managing new phase of COVID’s spread

The state says about 10% of all COVID cases last week occurred in people who already had the virus.
Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 5:45 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 28, 2022 at 6:08 PM HST

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state recorded the first COVID reinfection in September 2020.

Since then, reinfection has soared.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said at least 10% of all COVID-19 cases last week occurred in people who had already had the virus.

The Department of Health is now including reinfections in its seven-day average daily case counts.

But many cases are not getting officially counted.

“If somebody’s got a home test ... we’re not going to be able to capture those reinfections,” Kemble said.

State health officials want to know how often people are getting reinfected with COVID and whether a new Omicron fighting booster will help reduce reinfections.

The latest state variant report shows nearly all people testing positive for COVID have the Omicron subvariant.

Each week, DOH plans to release the number of people who test positive for COVID a second time at least 90 days after the first positive. The reinfection numbers aren’t broken down cases by vaccination status ― or how severe the second infection is ― but Dr. Kemble says national data looks promising.

“If you compare people who have been vaccinated after infection versus those who were never in fact vaccinated after infection, those who were vaccinated after infection, do better, they have less severe disease less likely to die, and they do have some protection against reinfection,” Kemble said.

Rex Alcubilla, of Pearl City, says he first got COVID in January 2021 after traveling to Virginia for a funeral. He got vaccinated after, but caught COVID again this past July.

“The second was a little more severe,” he said. “I was a little surprised I got it, but I’m also kind of aware that it could happen.”

Now he’s debating whether he should get the new bivalent booster ahead of his trip to the Philippines.

“I’ve had it twice. I’m hoping my natural immunity has developed for the most part,” he said.

Rida Cabanilla, who runs Kalihi Kai Urgent Care, says she’s seeing a lot of reinfections when people come to get tested for travel requirements ― some with no to mild symptoms.

As COVID mitigation requirements disappear, health experts urge people to protect themselves.

“This is gonna be around for a long time, just like the flu. And of course, society is now lax on it, we no longer doing the social distancing or crowd control,” she said.

Kemble added, “These data really do show the value of going out to get your bivalent booster, we are concerned and we see that nationwide, it’s only about 30% of the population that’s taken advantage of boosters in general.”

Alcubilla says he might have to take his chances with the virus.

“I do have kind of a certain medical heart condition that’s has me a little bit concerned if [the bivalent booster] is safe or not to get it,” he said. “If I happen to get [COVID] a third time, you know, I’ll deal with it.”

Health experts aren’t sure why some people keep getting COVID while others don’t.

They point to your exposure to risks, immune system, and genetics.

DOH hopes by tracking reinfections, it can also track how well the new booster fights Omicron subvariants.