Saturday, July 02, 2022 |
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Despite an increase in COVID-19 case numbers over the last week, Gov. David Ige announced Wednesday that the state’s pandemic strategy is shifting from an emergency response to public health management.
Since April 20, 3,370 new infections have been reported in Hawaii, with 491 of those on the Big Island. This is double the case number from the previous week, when 1,666 cases were reported statewide.
But although Ige and state health officials acknowledged the rising case numbers Wednesday, the governor said the state’s management of the pandemic will treat the novel coronavirus as a conventional illness like the flu for the time being — “something health care providers diagnose and treat.”
“We do have the tools to limit severe disease and its impact on our community,” Ige said. “We are not planning to impose new mask mandates or vaccination requirements at this point in time. We will continue to evaluate the situation and take actions as required.”
Ige said the state Department of Health’s COVID surveillance system and genomic sequencing initiatives will continue, and the DOH will continue to issue guidance as circumstances develop.
“It’s not sustainable to do the level of emergency response that we had been doing for the last two years,” said state Health Director Elizabeth Char. “So, we knew we had to transition at some point, especially as the public is more aware and there are more things in place in the health care system.”
State Epidemiologist Sarah Kemble said state policies such as rigorous contact tracing have been replaced with a broader strategy of ensuring that residents know what to do should they suspect they contract COVID-19.
However, Department of Education Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi said mandatory indoor masking will remain in place for the last weeks of the school year. The DOE also has provided guidance to schools about how to safely hold graduation ceremonies.
Hayashi also said maintaining the mask mandate obviates the need for quarantining in response to in-school COVID exposures.
Char and Kemble both reiterated Wednesday that the pandemic is not over, and urged residents to continue to act responsibly to avoid spreading the virus.
“We’re still seeing ongoing global, uncontrolled transmission of COVID-19, and we’re still seeing emergence of yet new variant strains,” Kemble said. “Transition into endemicity defines itself as being the state where we no longer have crisis situations due to the disease. It’s hard for us to know that, because COVID has surprised us at every turn.”
Kemble said that, should a seasonal respiratory illness, like the flu, strike the state and not cause a dramatic rise in deaths, then that might be a sign that the pandemic is becoming more of an endemic.
Until then, Char urged residents to get vaccinations and booster shots as long as they are freely available. However, Ige acknowledged that the federal funding for such initiatives eventually will run out, and residents may have to pay for vaccinations or testing themselves — but added that there is no estimate for when that will happen.
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