COVID spike ‘a cause for concern’ for DOE schools



Masking requirements will remain in place for graduation ceremonies and summer school, according to interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi and State Epidemiologist Sarah Kemble.

Decisions are still being made regarding masking for students returning in the fall.


“We came to a decision this week that there will be no changes in school guidance,” Kemble said Wednesday regarding summer school during a joint conference between the Department of Health and Department of Education. “The Department of Health did review case numbers and case reporting from schools and met with the DOE to understand the impact COVID is having.”

For the seventh consecutive week, COVID-19 cases have increased statewide. More than 5,000 new cases were recorded during the past seven days, with 718 on the Big Island.

Cases have also increased for the seventh straight week in schools, with 1,053 students recording positive during the same period. For the Big Island, six different schools reported more than 10 COVID-19 cases, with the most occurring at Keaau Middle School, where 17 cases were reported.

“By comparison, during the height of omicron, we saw numbers like these in a single day,” Hayashi said during the conference. “But it’s still a cause for concern.”

For the more than 40 graduation ceremonies taking place next week, policies regarding the number of attendees and lei-giving will be up to individual schools.

“Schools have the flexibility to implement strategies that best fit their respective area and the needs within their community,” said Hayashi, who noted the DOE has distributed over half-a-million at-home test kits during the past month. “Please use this tool before attending any events.”

So far, only one school, Molokai Middle School, has transitioned back to distance learning. The decision was made by the DOE and the school’s principal.

“As of now, we haven’t had any other situations at schools where we’ve needed to have that discussion,” said Hayashi, adding the decision resulted from impacted staff due to quarantine requirements. “We haven’t had to make a transition like that since omicron.”

Distance learning will continue to be offered for students at certain schools.

“While there will be an offering, we still very much advocate for students to be in person because of all the benefits,” said Hayashi, citing educational, emotional and nutritional support offered to in-person students.

Kemble encouraged individuals to continue wearing masks in public settings.

“Requirements to mask in-doors at work and school make good sense when community transmission is high,” Kemble said.

The increase in cases have occurred since March, following the ending of statewide masking mandates, the Safe Travels program and several federal requirements.

“There were many things that changed at the end of March,” said Kemble. “Masking is going to be more critical as case numbers continue to rise and as we see an impact in people being hospitalized and severely ill. Wearing a mask indoors is absolutely a good idea right now, especially in crowded settings.”

Hospitalizations have increased throughout the state as well, with 91 current hospitalizations statewide and eight individuals in the ICU. In Hawaii County, there are eight current hospitalizations related to COVID-19.

“It’s not just about how many COVID patients are ending up in the hospital, it’s also about our capacity to provide health care to keep people safe,” said Kemble, who noted vaccines still offer the best protection. “If you only had an omicron infection, you are not as well protected against reinfection as if you also had the vaccine. If you’ve had an infection recently and think that’s a reason not to get vaccinated, think again.”

With no ability yet to verify results, positive at-home tests are not included in the overall case counts, but resources such as home care treatment and recovery plans from the state are available here:

“If you get sick, there are effective treatments that are available in out-pateint settings,” Kemble said. “You have to start treatment within five days of onset to be effective, so it’s important to get tested as soon as you develop symptoms and get treated right away.”

A Special Edition Cluster Report released May 6 by the Department of Health revealed recent prom celebrations and other community events contributed to the increase in both COVID-19 cases and Influenza A outbreaks in April. The cluster reports are released bi-weekly.

“We do not feel that Hawaii is out of the pandemic,” Kemble said. “If you don’t want to be sick for graduation, this is a good week to really play it safe.”

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