With growing concerns amid Hawaii Covid case counts exploding, it looks increasingly likely that changes are ahead. This comes as Hawaii continues reporting record numbers of new Covid cases. Friday there were 622, Saturday 485, and Sunday 452 (as reported by Lt. Gov. Josh Green). These are the highest numbers since the pandemic first began. The cases have gone up about 500% in just the past three weeks.
In a press conference on Friday, Governor Ige said he is back to masking up and limiting his own gatherings, which is probably indicative of some of the state’s directions.
No changes in Covid restrictions have thus far been announced, but, Ige said, “At the point that I believe the hospitals have more patients than they would be able to handle, then we would take specific action to restrict movements again as necessary. Last week Ige said, “The seven-day average of new cases went vertical this week.”
Lt. Gov. Green said that this weekend’s numbers were “heart-wrenching.” He intimated that should cases continue in this direction, county and statewide mandates may be reinstated, saying, “we are seeing the surge from the Delta variant, we will see more people get COVID and we’ll see more people in the hospital.”
Why Hawaii hospitals are nearing capacity.
There is a severe shortage of qualified health workers in Hawaii. That may, in fact, be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, rather than it being ICU or ventilator capacity, as was the case last year. There is said to be only enough staff to man two-thirds of the state’s hospital beds, which, if true, would mean we are already nearing capacity.
Vaccination exemption not keeping cases in check.
Lt. Gov. Green said last week he believes that “it’s highly likely that Safe Travels will be left in place throughout the rest of the year because it has effectively kept our travel-related cases down.” Unfortunately, the way it is working now with vaccinated persons capable of spreading Covid, that plan no longer appears to keep cases in check.
While the Delta variant is still growing, and ahead of a potentially more serious Lambda one, there is a simultaneous slowing in vaccination among Hawaii’s residents. First, the 70% mark at which Safe Travel would be eliminated has become totally illusive. The 60% mark was only achieved last week.
Despite strict travel rules, Hawaii vacations continue to thrive.
Hawaii’s domestic travel counts are at pre-Covid already. And that comes even though visitors must either be vaccinated, comply with strict testing rules, or be quarantined for 10-days.
Next up: More pre-departure and/or post-arrival Covid testing even for those fully vaccinated?
We believe Hawaii is likely to implement some new forms of pre-departure and/or post-arrival testing regardless of vaccination status. That makes sense given that it is widely reported that Delta can be spread by vaccinated individuals, even though they may be less likely to become critically ill themselves.
Initially, post-arrival tests could be for those who have opted neither for vaccination nor testing. That could be applied to those choosing to quarantine instead. Should that not be adequate to control Covid case numbers, testing could again be applied broadly.
Pre-departure testing has been very successful in mitigating Covid caseloads in Hawaii. And the Safe Travels system, while cumbersome to some degree, is long-established and at the ready to function more widely again.
We are hopeful but not confident, however, that the current variant will be self-limiting. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, prior FDA head, said last week he believes we are further into the Delta variant uptick than believed. He was quoted as saying that in the next two weeks, “hopefully we’re going to turn a corner.” That appears to have been the case in the UK.