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Ige: ‘We need to take further action to restrict’ gatherings

New restrictions on gathering sizes could be announced by the end of this week, Gov. David Ige said during a livestream Monday.

“We were hoping that the case counts would level off and begin to normalize, but we are seeing exponential growth,” he said. “As you know, on July 3 there were 60 (COVID-19) cases, and over the last few days we’ve averaged over 600. So, clearly we’re not going in the right direction, and we need to take further action to restrict interactions.”

The surge of cases is being driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, which Ige said is different than prior strains of the virus. Those who are infected carry more virus and it spreads more quickly to others.

“So, we are going to have to do something,” the governor said. “Our hospitals are filling up, and that’s the concern. We’re 2,500 miles away from any kind of help.”

Gatherings are spreading the virus, he said.

“So, a reduction in the number of people who can gather, both indoors and outdoors, is definitely one area that we’re looking at. … We want to be smart about how we can be focused on the behavior that is spreading the virus.”

New restrictions won’t be as broad as they have been in the past, he said.

“But it’s clear that the cases keep going, and that will overwhelm our health care system if we don’t take further action.”

Ige said state leaders are working through the details and considering how to structure the restrictions “so that we can get to the behavior that is most fueling this latest surge,” while trying to minimize impacts.

The governor, however, said he’s not currently considering changes to the Safe Travels program, but did not rule out changes in the future, “if we can’t get the numbers to level off and to really start trending downward.”

The state hasn’t had a significant number of cases tied to visitors traveling to the islands, he said.

Rather, most cases are in residents who have traveled and brought the virus back.

Ige, who last week announced that state and county employees in Hawaii will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be regularly tested for the virus, also addressed that decision on Monday.

“I think that the Delta variant is really a game changer,” Ige said. “The fact that it is so much easier to transmit, and definitely the fact that even we are seeing a few breakthrough cases in those who are vaccinated, it changes the dynamic.”

Ige also said the pace of vaccinations has dropped precipitously.

In May, an average of 70,000 doses were administered each week, but in June that fell to about 36,000 per week. In July an average of 15,000 doses were administered each week.

“Then it fell to less than 8,000 per week after that,” he said. “So, we saw a significant drop-off in those choosing to get vaccinated, so it’s clear that many who were not vaccinated would not be pursing vaccination, and we had to do something.”

In response to those who have pushed back against the mandate, the governor said the issue balances individual interest against the broader community interest.

“Especially when it comes to public health, we always put the overwhelming public health as a concern,” he said. “We do know COVID has ravaged the entire planet, is an infectious disease, and millions of people have contracted the disease and died. And so we do believe that vaccinations are the answer.

“We have vaccinated hundreds of millions of people here in the United States. The adverse reactions have been very, very minimal,” he continued. “And we do believe in order to protect the health of our community, that requiring vaccinations of state and county employees is the right thing to do.”

Ige has said previously that when the state reaches a fully vaccinated rate of 70%, all of Hawaii’s COVID-related emergency restrictions will be dropped, and the state’s Safe Travels program will end.

On Monday, however, Ige reiterated that the Delta variant “changes the dynamics,” and said, “clearly 70% is not the same 70% that we talked about even two months ago or three months ago. So we’re going to have to assess the conditions.”

There are now more than 200 patients in hospitals statewide with COVID-19, he said, when that number was less than 40 just a month ago.

“That’s the biggest concern,” the governor said. “We definitely will be reevaluating 70%.”

As of Monday, 60.6% of Hawaii residents have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, while 67.8% have received at least one dose, according to data from the state Department of Health.

“We had our first 10,000-vaccination day in probably almost a month,” Ige said. “So, clearly people are responding to this surge. More people are getting vaccinated. I think we that have a better shot at hitting the 70%, but I do believe that 70% won’t be good enough. We’ll have to watch the case counts, how many sick are in our hospitals, and what our capacity of our hospitals are to handle those who are infected.”

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

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