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Char: COVID surge hasn’t peaked

Hawaii’s COVID-19 case numbers have not yet reached their peak, Hawaii Health Director Libby Char said Wednesday.

Despite 625 new COVID cases being reported statewide Wednesday, with 100 on the Big Island, Char said during a livestreamed interview that case numbers are continuing to rise while hospitals’ resources are being strained to the breaking point.

“Hospitals are really struggling,” Char said. “They are working as hard as they can … they’re working long hours, under difficult situations.”

A prediction by the Hawaii Pandemic Applied Modeling Work Group, a partnership of Hawaii-based health professionals, estimates that the state will have more than 1,300 new cases per day by Sept. 7, and nearly 4,000 per day by Oct. 8.

Char said the state’s hospitals are already full of patients seeking non-COVID-related treatment, but with the addition of a crushing number of COVID patients, the state’s health care system is under extreme stress.

Most of those COVID patients, she said, are among the 29% of Hawaii residents who are unvaccinated, which means their hospital stays are typically longer and more severe.

Furthermore, the worldwide spread of the Delta variant means that it is harder to get additional help.

“If we had a hurricane or an earthquake here, then we could bring staff in from the mainland to come and help augment,” Char said. “Right now, all of the U.S. is having issues with COVID just blowing up. It was really different last year, when New York was a real hotspot, and then Florida was a real hotspot, and it sort of moved around the country, but wasn’t the entire country at once. So, you had a pool of health care workers you could tap into at any given time to shift over and help us.”

Char said the state brought in dozens of workers to assist Big Island hospitals last week, but added the situation feels as though the states are bidding against each other to get sufficient medical staff.

Because of their limited resources, Char said the Department of Health is making compromises where it can afford to.

For example, she said, the state doesn’t have the manpower to conduct full contact tracing for every one of the over 9,000 active COVID cases in the state right now. Instead, Char said the DOH is prioritizing tracing for people in contact with vulnerable populations, such as health care or school workers.

Char said keiki are still safer in schools than otherwise. By and large, she said, children are less likely to contract COVID at schools than they are to contract it at home.

“Schools are a reflection of our community,” Char said. “If we have raging COVID in our community, it’s going to put our schools at more risk.”

Char also noted enough is known about the long-term effects of COVID infection on children, and urged anybody who comes in regular contact with keiki 12 and under to get vaccinated in order to protect them.

Despite how ragged the state’s health care system is at the moment, Char said there might be a ray of light.

Where a few weeks ago the state was averaging about 1,000 new vaccine doses administered each day, that number has increased to about 5,000 per day, and more than 20,000 per week.

“People are scared,” Char said. “And they should be.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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