Health officials said the Delta variant and an increase in residents traveling to the Mainland are driving an ongoing spike in COVID-19 cases, as Hawaii reported 243 confirmed and probable cases on Thursday, the highest single-day case count since early January.
The numbers are not all from Fourth of July celebrations, which caused an uptick last year but went away quickly, said Kauai District Health Officer Dr. Janet Berreman during a news conference Thursday afternoon.
But this year, high case counts after the holiday are lingering due to the highly transmissible Delta variant and other factors, she said.
“This year after the Fourth of July, what we are seeing is a rapid and exponential rise and it is showing no signs of diminishing. It is continuing to increase,” Berreman said.
Increased travel by residents who bring home the virus from the Mainland is also a factor, she said.
Of the 243 cases reported Thursday, Oahu had 146 cases, Hawaii island had 50, Maui had 14, Kauai had eight and 25 Hawaii residents were diagnosed out of state.
Even though the state Department of Health only began including probable cases in its daily counts in May, the 230 confirmed cases on Thursday are still high compared to what Hawaii has been seeing in recent months as vaccinations rose.
As of Thursday, Maui County had the second-lowest test positivity rate in the state, at 2.6 percent over the past two weeks. Kauai County had a 2.4 percent test positivity rate, while Honolulu County was at 4.3 percent and Hawaii County had the highest rate at 5.3 percent.
Honolulu County also had the highest number of Delta samples detected to date with 61, followed by Hawaii County with 31, Maui with nine and Kauai with seven, according to this week’s variant report, which reflects specimens that have undergone genome sequencing to identify variants.
Even though Maui County has lower test positivity rates and Delta variant counts, Dr. Edward Desmond, state Laboratories Division administrator, said that “I would expect (Delta variant cases) to increase” in the county, spurring more positive cases overall.
Stressing the need for everyone to be vaccinated, DOH spokesman Brooks Baehr said that of Thursday’s 243 cases, 66 were among those 18 and younger.
“Unfortunately we are seeing that unvaccinated adults are still infecting children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated,” he added.
“What we are seeing here is widespread community transmission around the state,” he said. “Overwhelmingly the number of new cases we are seeing are among unvaccinated people. And they are unvaccinated people who are not wearing masks indoors, they are unvaccinated people who are traveling, about 20 percent of cases we have seen this month involve unvaccinated people connected to travel.”
“Much of what is happening now can be prevented if people get themselves vaccinated,” Baehr said, adding that vaccines are safe, effective and free.
He asked that people wear masks indoors, stay home if not feeling well, avoid large crowds and gatherings and avoid travel if not vaccinated.
Of the three deaths reported Thursday, however, one included an Oahu woman in her 60s who had been fully vaccinated. Baehr said that the woman was hospitalized and had multiple underlying conditions.
Among the 527 COVID-related deaths reported in Hawaii so far, two people had been fully vaccinated, Baehr added.
Maui Memorial Medical Center is experiencing an increase in COVID-19 patients along with the rest of the state and the country, hospital spokeswoman Tracy Dallarda said.
As of Thursday morning, the hospital had 15 COVID patients, with two in the Intensive Care Unit, one on a ventilator.
“We have not received confirmation from DOH, but suspect the COVID variants are involved,” Dallarda said.
She encouraged people to get vaccinated and said the hospital’s main lobby vaccine clinic remains open from 9 a.m. to noon on Mondays and from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. on Fridays. Walk-ins are welcome.
The hospital has also updated its visitor policy with general visiting hours from noon to 6 p.m. daily and a limit of one visitor per day for each patient.
Also, beginning Monday, only vaccinated visitors will be allowed entry to the hospital, Dallarda said. Visitors must show proof of their vaccination status by bringing either their CDC vaccine card or a printout of their VAMS vaccine certificate along with state-issued identification. There are exceptions to this policy for pediatrics, obstetrics and other special circumstances. For more information, visit mauihealth.org/covidvaccine.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at [email protected].