Governor David Ige today announced the state’s transition from emergency response to public health disease management.
“I think we all know that COVID-19 is not going away. In fact, the number of cases is increasing and experts expect COVID to be with us for the foreseeable future,” Governor Ige said during a Wednesday afternoon press briefing.
As part of the transition, Governor Ige said COVID-19 would be treated more like other illnesses, which health care providers diagnose and treat. He touted the state’s work for having the lowest number of cases per capita and among the lowest death rates in the country.
The state Department of Health will perform full genome sequencing to search for new variants, and the state will continue its surveillance system.
“We do not plan to impose any new mask mandates or vaccination requirements at this time. We will continue to assess the situation and take the necessary actions, but we must all remain smart and careful as ever, during the transition,” Governor Ige said.
4-fold increase in cases from March 18
State officials have acknowledged that COVID-19 infections are on the rise across the country, as well as here in Hawaiʻi. According to Dr. Sarah Kemble, state epidemiologist at the Department of Health, the current daily average number of cases reported in Hawaii is 362, which represents a fourfold increase from a low of 88 cases per day on March 18. .
“As the Department of Health monitors this trend, we believe the state is well positioned to manage and respond to the increase in COVID-19 infections. But we still urge the community to proceed with caution,” Dr Kemble said.
Dr. Kemble said the rise in cases was something that was expected as many statewide restrictions were lifted, including the Safe Travels program and indoor mask mandates for public spaces.
“People are returning to a greater state of normality and so they are doing a lot of things that they may not have been doing for most of the pandemic. People are going to more events and bigger gatherings. They travel. More and more people are returning to in-person work,” Dr. Kemble said, noting that variants may also play a role.
“So we see the BA.2 variant making up a greater proportion of the virus circulating in our state. BA.2 appears to be more transmissible than the initial BA.1 omicron variant,” she said.
DOH officials also acknowledged that there are significantly more COVID cases in the community than those reported to the Department of Health. This is due to the number of people taking home tests, which are not included in DOH data.
Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator
Due to all of these factors leading to an increase in COVID-19 infections, DOH officials say the public should maintain a level of caution.
“I want to point out that the cases we are seeing now are not that far behind, associated with a dramatic increase in hospitalizations. We have reason to hope that more cases do not necessarily mean a heavy burden of serious illness and death,” Dr Kemble said.
“When we look at the global landscape – in countries where vaccination coverage was high before the omicron push, even though cases have increased and hospitalizations have also increased, ICU admissions and deaths have not showed about the same level of increase as in previous flare-ups,” Dr. Kemble said.
She said that referred to countries where the proportion of the total population fully immunized was around 85% and higher – close to where we are now in Hawaiʻi.
“Additionally, while we have unfortunately seen many hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 during our omicron push in Hawaiʻi, we can now expect a larger proportion of our population to be immune to a previous infection, in addition to the level of immunity induced by the vaccine. we had the surge,” Dr. Kemble said.
She advised to be careful. “We have seen in every previous surge that hospitalizations are a lagging indicator. It is too early to conclude that we are clear on COVID-19. We always have to use all of our tools available in our toolbox,” she said.
The DOH advises people to continue to stay home when sick, stay up to date on vaccinations and boosters, and be sensitive to mask wearing and other preventative measures, especially when attending. to large indoor gatherings. Dr Kemble said masking remains an important mitigation strategy in congregate settings, including nursing homes, shelters and schools.
Interior Masking continues at Hawaii public schools for the rest of the school year
As seen in the wider community, the state Department of Education is also reporting an increase in cases in schools.
“This marks the fifth straight week of increased case counts since spring break,” said Keith Hayashi, acting superintendent of the state Department of Education.
A total of 396 confirmed or probable cases were reported in the public school system last week. The system has 257 schools and more than 200,000 students and staff across the state.
“Under the direction of the Department of Health, for K-12 schools, maintaining this additional protection means that quarantining school exposures is no longer necessary. This major change in quarantine guidelines aligns with our continued priority of maintaining in-person learning for our students,” Hayashi said.
“Even though we all want to return to pre-COVID practices…we are still in a pandemic and need to act accordingly. Graduation ceremonies are taking place in the coming weeks. We want to make sure our students can celebrate this special occasion they deserve, but it must be done safely,” Hayashi said.
According to the DOE, the department has provided general guidance and safety metrics for schools to use in planning launch events. There are different considerations for different locations. “Schools have the flexibility to determine event-specific details to maintain the health and safety of all attendees,” Hayashi said.
To help with the DOE’s effort, their department received 700,000 home testing kits. Over the past three weeks, the DOE has distributed nearly 400,000 kits to schools. The department plans to meet with the DOH to plan safety protocols for summer school and the upcoming school year. Hayashi said he would make those announcements when appropriate.
“We know we want to maximize learning opportunities for our students, so they continue to learn in person; and I think we’re all excited about the degrees and being able to attend in-person events in one way or another,” Governor Ige said.
The DOH names 3 goals: Protect, Detect, Enhance resilience
Dr. Elizabeth Char, director of the state Department of Health, identified three primary goals as the state moves into disease management, mirroring plans at the national level.
The three main objectives defined by the DOH are:
- Protect and treat against COVID-19.
- Detect and prepare for new variants.
- Improve community resilience.
Testing has shifted from temporary community testing sites to testing by health care providers and home testing.
There are eight free over-the-counter tests that members of the public can get per month, according to Dr Char. “They’re available using your health insurance, either for reimbursement or in some places they’ll just let you get all eight without having to pay anything upfront,” Dr. Char said.
“The number of cases has increased gradually over the past month across the country and in Hawaiʻi. Hawaii is still doing well overall. The number of hospitalizations has started to increase over the past week, but hospitals still have plenty of capacity to provide optimal care for these patients,” Dr. Char said.
She continued to advise sick people to stay home. “Avoiding spreading your germs, I think, is probably one of the most important things, and masks are a great tool for doing that,” Dr. Char said.