Green: Hawaii ‘doing OK’ despite recent COVID-19 surge

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Kenzo Nakamura gives Katrina Ramos the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Hilo Medical Center in Hilo on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A vial holds ten doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before it is used on Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home residents and employees in Hilo on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021.

Although the number of COVID-19 cases statewide is still in triple-digit territory amid a post-holiday surge, case counts seem to be on the decline.

The state Department of Health on Monday reported 172 new cases of COVID-19 in Hawaii, including 20 on Hawaii Island.

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On Jan. 7, the state reported 322 new cases, the highest single-day case count since a surge in August. On Jan. 8, there were 264 news cases.

According to Hawaii County Civil Defense, two people on Hawaii Island are hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported here in the last two weeks.

Civil Defense, however, said the “alarmingly high” level of cases both globally and nationally is contributing to many travel-related cases on Hawaii Island.

“We’re doing OK,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green, a practicing West Hawaii physician, said during a livestream Monday with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “This is still the remnant of the surge from New Year’s where gatherings, social gatherings, that is, caused a surge of consequence. It’s almost all been from those social gatherings. Whether it’s an office party or a gathering at home with 10 people … that’s where most of the spread’s been.”

Green believes that surge is coming down, but the number of active cases has increased by 800-900 since early December. The number of hospitalized individuals is steady, he said, but higher than it was 6-8 weeks ago.

Green expects case counts to return to “double digits” around Jan. 20, once the holiday surge clears.

But despite Hawaii’s higher case counts, Green said he doesn’t expect another lockdown in the near future.

“That determination is made in a different way than the lieutenant governor asking for it,” he said. “I asked … for a very clear pause on social gatherings, but not any lockdowns.”

Instead, mayors have to determine whether their counties can manage the spread of the virus, he explained.

“There has been more in the way of COVID cases on Maui, for sure. There was as little bit more on Kauai, although nothing has changed. There’s just some community spread that’s been going on,” Green said. “Big Island has settled down quite a lot, and Oahu’s number is actually pretty modest. … So, very low numbers as compared to any other geographic place in the country.”

Green also spoke about the state’s vaccination rollout, which began last month. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna in December.

As of Monday morning, 38,987 people statewide have received a COVID-19 vaccine.

With three weeks required between the two requisite doses of the Pfizer vaccine and four weeks between doses of the Moderna vaccine, Green said some health care workers and kupuna in long-term care facilities vaccinated in the first stage of the state’s inoculation plan are now getting their second shots, “and lots and lots of individuals are getting their first shot.”

“We’ve had a lot of vaccines starting to come in,” he said. “We had expected 150,000 doses per month. I think it’s going to look a little bit more like 100,000 doses that come in in January.”

That, however, will ramp up to at least 150,000 doses per month in February and beyond, Green said.

According to Green, the state also is expecting approval of vaccines from two additional companies — Johnson &Johnson and AstraZeneca — in the near future.

“That could double the amount of vaccine we start getting come March,” he said. “ … It will accelerate how fast we get to just regular people who don’t have any high risk or aren’t obviously our kupuna.”

Green said the state expects to vaccinate those in the Phase 1A and Phase 1B prioritized categories, — about 200,000 people — throughout January and February.

Additionally, larger vaccination sites will soon be launched in Honolulu, to help speed the vaccination process.

Scheduling for the vaccines will be done online, but Green said for those without access to the technology to do so, extra information will be provided to their doctors who can reach out. Some sign-ups also will be allowed at the hub facilities.

When asked about the willingness of the general population to get the vaccine, Green said a poll of 4,000 people found that 59% of Hawaii residents want to be vaccinated right away, while another 21% could be convinced to receive the inoculation.

“One way (to encourage vaccinations) is just to see doctors like me or nurse or their kupuna get vaccinated and realize it was good and it was helpful, and there weren’t any side effects,” he said.

According to Green, not much has been reported in Hawaii in terms of side effects, mostly arm pain and some muscle aches and low-grade fevers.

Green said he also has heard about 20% of those in the health care community don’t want to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

“Once again, it’s people’s own prerogative. This is a voluntary vaccination,” he said. “I will say this, though. If you’re a health care worker, and you continue to see patients, and you don’t get vaccinated, it’s not just you you’re putting at risk. It could be others.”

Green said he has requested that once a person finishes the vaccination process, they be exempt from any travel restrictions.

He also is asking the governor to allow interisland travelers who have been vaccinated to bypass the state’s Safe Travels program.

And when can people begin to gather again at special events, like birthdays and graduations?

Come May and June, Green said many, if not all, individuals who wanted to be vaccinated will have done so.

“That’s going to make it very easy to get back to normal. Very easy,” he said. “I think that the mayors probably will lean pretty heavily on our overall vaccination status as to big gatherings and big events. It’ll get better each month, is all I can really tell you.”

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However, by the July Fourth holiday, “I expect us to be in a very good spot statewide.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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