COVID death toll rises, but cases continue to drop

The death toll of those who died from COVID-19 increased statewide and in Hawaii County this week, in-part due to the omicron variant wave that struck Hawaii earlier this year.

“These deaths are not all deaths that occurred in the last week,” clarified State Epidemiologist Sarah Kemble during a press briefing Wednesday. “These are deaths that may have occurred in preceding weeks and just now got reported to us.”


One new death occurred in Hawaii County, a man above the age of 80, and 20 new deaths were reported statewide.

As deaths have increased, total case numbers have dropped for the fifth consecutive week, statewide by 981 cases and in Hawaii County by 62.

“As we know, deaths are a lagging indicator, and we do see those deaths emerge as the peak of the actual cases may be passing us by,” Kemble said. “We are now seeing the latest impacts of this surge of omicron that we had over May and June.”

The state Department of Health reported omicron subvariants BA.1 and BA.2 remain the dominant strains throughout the state.

“BA.1 and 2 are still the predominant strains,” said Kemble. “We are seeing some BA.4 and 5, but at this time, they are still the minority of what we’re seeing in the state.”

Concerns related to the BA.4 and BA.5 variants have risen, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting the two strains make up 70% of current COVID variants in the U.S.

“Based on what we’re seeing on the mainland, I would say it’s likely BA.4 and 5 will continue to gain a foothold in Hawaii, and we’ll continue to see an increase,” Kemble said. “Whether that will cause another surge is less certain. In some countries and jurisdictions, that has been the case.”

Previous infections could provide some immunity, according to the DOH.

“We’ve already had surges of BA.1 and BA.2 recently, so there is some cross-immunity,” Kemble said. “But I do think we’ll have to see if we begin to see more impact in terms of hospitalizations and severe outcomes as we begin to see more BA.4 and BA.5.”

Kemble also cited the importance of vaccines and boosters to combat the rising deaths.

“There is some discussion at the national level of whether new approaches to vaccines might be in our future, but this is all speculation at this point,” said Kemble, noting both BA.4 and BA.5 are getting further away from the original virus the vaccines were designed for. “Right now, we do know that the currently available vaccines still reduce your risk of getting severe outcomes from COVID-19, including hospitalization and death.”

Hawaii reported strong vaccination rates early on in the pandemic, but low second booster rates have concerned the DOH.

“To date, about 75% of Hawaii residents aged 50 and older have not received a second booster dose, and about 61% of those 75 and older have not received a second booster dose,” Kemble said. “Looking at our recent deaths, and even deaths over the entire pandemic, over 90% have been among people 50 and older, so it’s really important.”

Vaccines are now available for those in the under 5 age group as well.

“I do recommend getting your children vaccinated if they are under 5,” she said. “It is beneficial to protect against severe outcomes of COVID-19, including some of the conditions we’ve seen like MIS-C (Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children), which can be an immune response condition that can actually be quite severe in children.”

For the upcoming fall semester, DOH officials are still updating their guidance policy related to mandated masking in public schools.

“We are currently reviewing our school guidance and working on that as we speak,” Kemble said. “We do hope to be releasing the new school guidance within the next week or two.”

Email Grant Phillips at

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