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Hawai‘i hospitals burdened by skyrocketing infection rate amongst the unvaccinated

HONOLULU — Adult intensive-care units throughout the state are packed.

On Friday, the state’s hospitals reported a total of 223 licensed adult ICU beds and 224 ICU patients, 99 of whom have COVID-19.

Experts are worried large gatherings associated with the holiday weekend could generate a surge in COVID-19 case numbers.

The uptick would further burden a hospital system already racing to care for an unprecedented number of coronavirus patients.

“We have a record number of COVID-positive patients in our hospitals today (Friday) — 446,” Hilton Raethel, president of the Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i, told the state Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 Friday. “That is a new record. That is an increase of 330% since Aug. 1.”

Raethel and others who addressed the committee attributed the soaring numbers to the state’s unvaccinated population, which makes up over 90% of all current cases of COVID-19 in Hawai‘i.

“In the unvaccinated population, the infection rate is six to seven times more than what we looked at in the pandemic last year,” Raethel said. “That is a rather sobering statistic.”

ICU capacity is the most critical potential breakpoint within the Hawai‘i health care system, according to Raethel.

“We’re getting close to not being able to provide ICU care for all patients needing it, which means some patients will not get the optimal level of care to maintain health and, potentially, life,” he said.

Should the pandemic overwhelm the health-care system, all island hospitals are prepared to enact crisis standards of care, which determine who receives treatment and who doesn’t. But this worst-case scenario isn’t on the table yet, thanks to an ongoing influx of out-of-state staff funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The FEMA-funded staffing has allowed us to avoid implementing crisis standards of care, at least for the near future,” Raethel said. “If we did not have this available in this state right now, as of today … it is very possible that some of our hospitals would be operating under crisis standards of care right now.”

The availability of medical-grade oxygen, which is difficult to transport from the mainland, has also been an area of concern.

The state’s two chief suppliers have converted their facilities to 100% medical-grade oxygen production in response, and hospitals have instituted conservation protocols to ensure no gas is wasted. These measures and others have likely staved off a crisis, according to Raethel, who believes Hawai‘i is no longer in danger of running short.

Other speakers on Friday included state Department of Health Director Dr. Elizabeth “Libby” Char, state Attorney General Clare E. Conners and University of Hawai‘i researchers behind Hawai‘i Pandemic Applied Modeling, a volunteer group dedicated to forecasting pandemic trends within the state.

Committee members expressed deep concern over the experts’ “scary” reports, and urged Char and Connors to initiate greater public-health messaging and investigation of vaccine fraud, respectively.

The committee also repeatedly pressed officials to instate new COVID-19 tier systems, arguing doing so would provide the public with a clear view of the pandemic’s current state and potential consequences.

“I think the predictability of the different tiers did help reduce some level of stress and frustration,” said committee Chair Sen. Donovan M. Dela Cruz.

Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole and Sen. Michelle Kidani reported receiving messages from constituents voicing opposition to vaccines in favor of unsafe and unsubstantiated treatment methods like ivermectin (used to treat parasitic worms in humans and animals).

Kidani closed the meeting by asking Raethel and Char if either had encountered an unvaccinated hospital patient who refused treatment for the coronavirus. Both answered no.

“It’s an interesting fact that happens on a regular basis … by the time they get sick enough to go to a hospital, they say, ‘Give me whatever it takes to get me well,’” Raethel said. “And that is unfortunate.”

Char echoed Raethel’s comments.

“We have many stories of people asking the health-care workers as they lay sick, ‘I should have gotten vaccinated. I wish I knew. Can I get vaccinated now?’” she said. “As Hilton said, the answer is ‘no, you can’t get vaccinated right now.’”

Hospitals are approaching a breaking point.

On Wednesday, Gov. David Ige signed an executive order stating that health-care facilities, professionals and volunteers “shall be immune from civil liability for any death or injury to persons or property damage alleged to have been caused by any act or omission…”

According to Ige, the order was given in anticipation of worsening hospital conditions.

“Certainly, as we’ve heard today, we have pushed our health-care system to the maximum,” Ige said in a Friday press conference. “My executive order does outline the next steps of what would happen. It does provide for an acknowledged crisis-management situation where care would have to be provided and rationed, if you will, if we are unable to reduce the census that we see in the hospitals.”

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Scott Yunker, general assignment reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or syunker@thegardenisland.com. Laurel Smith, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0424 or lsmith@thegardenisland.com, and contributed to this report.
Source: The Garden Island

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