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Delta variant fueling COVID-19 surge

COVID-19 cases are surging statewide because the virus is “everywhere.”

“We know we’ve got a high community transmission rate going on, pretty much attributed to the Delta variant, which is very transmissible,” Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said Friday. “… Our concerns are people need to be aware that it’s everywhere within our community. You’ve got to be cautious. … We’ve just got to watch ourselves to get through this.”

While the there still are some travel-related cases, largely in returning residents, Magno said the virus is now circulating within the Big Island community — in work, social and sports groups, “covering all social realms of society within our community.”

The state Department of Health on Friday reported 628 cases of the novel coronavirus statewide, a day after a record-breaking 655 cases were reported in Hawaii; 615 more cases were reported Saturday.

According to data from the DOH, there were an average of 445 new cases reported each day from July 29 and Aug. 4. There have been more than 5,000 cases in the past 14 days.

On the Big Island, Friday’s tally came to 110 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases, down slightly from the 131 cases reported Thursday. On Saturday, there were 101 new cases, with 28 persons hospitalized.

Hawaii County has an 8% test positivity rate, the highest amongst the state’s four counties and higher than the statewide positivity rate of 6.8%.

According to a cluster report published Thursday by the DOH, seven clusters have been investigated on the Big Island in the last 14 days, including one previously reported at Hawaii Community Correctional Center that had a total of 291 cases.

Two clusters in educational settings resulted in 12 cases; one cluster in a restaurant resulted in 17 cases; one cluster in a place of worship resulted in 33; and two clusters in unspecified settings resulted in 18 cases.

The cluster report does not specifically identify where the clusters were found.

Data from the DOH that enumerates cases found in each zip code, however, shows that 268 cases have been reported in Kailua-Kona and 253 have been reported in Hilo in the prior 14 days.

In that same time frame, 70 cases have been reported in the Keaau, Kurtistown and Hawaiian Paradise Park areas; 55 cases have been reported in the Waimea, Waikoloa, Puako and Kawaihae areas; and 53 in Kapaau.

Jason Dela Cruz, acting district health officer for Hawaii County, said in a Zoom call Friday with other health officials that those numbers are based on the residence of the individual and doesn’t identify where they contracted the virus.

“I want someone to be able to look at this map and think about, you know, case activity around me is high in general. It doesn’t matter where I was specifically,” he said. “You got to take on that preventive effort wherever you are … because we can’t necessarily tell where you specifically got it, and we couldn’t even tell that in best of times.

“People are mobile, people are going out, people are doing these things,” Dela Cruz continued. “That exposure could happen at any place. … As long as we’re seeing community transmission, I don’t want anybody relaxing because they live on the opposite side of the island. Everybody has to stay vigilant.”

Testing demand

Because of the current surge, more testing is available.

Hawaii County recently reinstated its community testing program.

As part of that, S&G Labs tested 382 people Wednesday at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo, according to Crystal Nobriga, sales and marketing director of the Kailua-Kona based laboratory.

“People were even walking up trying to avoid the long line, but unfortunately that’s defeating the whole purpose of a drive-thru, touchless COVID testing site,” she said in an email to the Tribune-Herald.

Nobriga said it’s difficult to determine the exact reason for the spike in demand for testing, but the lab does ask why an individual is seeking a test in its registration process to see whether the test will be covered by insurance or not.

“… The common answer we’re hearing from people in the community is they’re here because they saw on the news to come out for free testing,” she said. “They believe the right thing to do is come get tested.

“I believe the county’s purpose for starting back up with the community testing was to offer easily accessible testing to people who are symptomatic or have been in direct contact with a positive person. Which is awesome, and we’re always supportive of the community’s needs,” Nobriga continued. “But it seems like a lot of people are just simply coming out to play it extra safe and because they’re under the impression that it’s free.”

For his part, Magno thinks the testing demand is driven by a number of factors, including concern about possible exposure and the start of the school year.

“That’s one reason we reactivated the testing, because we knew there was the demand out there in the community,” he said.

Magno said the county has several operations in both East and West Hawaii each week, as well as smaller mobile testing and vaccination sites throughout the week.

A full list of testing opportunities can be found online at bit.ly/HawaiiCOVIDtesting.

Dela Cruz also said that testing sites are increasing across the island and should be accessed when a reliable result is more likely, which is about five days after exposure.

Because of the surge, there’s also an increase in people seeking tests at hospitals, he said.

“Presenting to the ER, just hoping to get a COVID test, is just not really advised at this time,” said Dela Cruz. “It never really was unless you were symptomatic and really needing that emergency care. We don’t want people showing up at the ER seeking testing that are asymptomatic and we have public testing sites available.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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