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Green: At current vaccination rates, larger events could return this spring

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, a Big Island physician, said Monday that he anticipates Hawaii will be safe enough to permit larger gatherings this spring.

But Green said during a livestream that he wants Hawaii’s mayors to make the decisions about when to loosen restrictions once more people are vaccinated. Currently, the state’s vaccination rollout is in Phase 1B.

“I absolutely think that once we’ve gotten past 1B, we should open up high school sports,” he said. “Bars have taken it on the chin … I’d like to see them open. But that’s why when you get through the high-risk groups, and they’re vaccinated, you don’t have as much to worry about. Because even if there are cases, the cases will be in 20- to 30-year-olds who don’t end up sick enough to go into the hospital.”

The state’s vaccination plan prioritizes distribution of vaccines in two phases.

The first phase has three components, with an emphasis on high-risk populations.

Phase 1A includes health care personnel and long-term care facility residents, while Phase 1B includes frontline essential workers and adults older than 75.

Adults 65-74, people 16-64 with high-risk medical conditions, and essential workers not included in 1B can be vaccinated in Phase 1C.

Phase 2 will cover the rest of the population, which includes everyone 16 and older not included in previous categories.

“My feeling is that as we finish 1B, we’ll be fine. We’ll be basically safe as a society, and when we (vaccinate) the additional 65-74 year olds, I don’t really fear COVID then as a society any longer,” Green said. “So, that’s when pretty much any gathering you want to do should be considered.”

At the current rate of vaccinations, Green said vaccines will have been administered to all of the 1A and 1B groups and most of 1C by May.

Green said a combination of those inoculations, plus a proposal before the governor to allow people who are fully vaccinated to travel freely instead of going through the state’s Safe Travels pre-testing program, would provide enough protection to allow larger gatherings.

“So, come May 1, when we’re that safe, we should really be thinking about having large events,” Green said.

“Now, we should still do it smart. We should still have masks. We shouldn’t have (people) huddled together like sardines, but we will be very safe then as a society and those who remain somewhat vulnerable are not very vulnerable at all from a health care standpoint.”

“I think it’s a great goal, but of course we’re going to have to assess where we’re at at the time,” Mayor Mitch Roth said by phone Monday when asked about Green’s May 1 expectation. “… We’re just going to have to assess as we go. I hope he’s right, for all of our sakes. It would be great to see that we have enough people vaccinated that it would be safe and get everybody back to work and back to school.”

When considering lifting restrictions on the Big Island, Roth said the county must assess a number of metrics, including how many people are testing positive, how many are hospitalized, how many are severely ill, and how many have been vaccinated.

“Then there’s the other unknown we have to keep in mind, which is the mutations of the virus,” he said. “… Unfortunately, there’s a lot of unknowns, but we’re still optimistic.”

When speaking about his proposal for vaccinated travelers, Green that those who receive a vaccine will largely be immune and there’s low risk they’ll carry the virus.

“This is a win-win for us in Hawaii in every way, and we will also have vaccinated our most vulnerable people,” he said. “As we move through 1B and 1C, in my opinion, we should really lift all of the extra travel testing rules.”

Green said the state — which has distributed more than 151,000 doses of the vaccine, and will have received nearly 244,000 doses by midweek — is nearing the point it can provide about 10,000 shots per day, or 50,000 shots a week.

By the end of February, he said he expects about 350,000 doses to be administered, and if a vaccine from Johnson &Johnson is approved, it’s “another arrow in our quiver to go after COVID.”

If more vaccines are approved and additional allocations are secured, Green said the state could double its vaccination output.

“So, instead of doing 200,000 people a month, we could, if everything goes perfectly, double that. Now, you’re talking about getting through our population really quickly.

“That’s why when I suggested we could get to herd immunity sometime this summer, I mean it, because I do see the ti leaves and the way they’re falling. And if people are patient, we’ll get there.”

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

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