LIHU‘E — The state Department of Health reported three COVID-19 deaths Thursday — two on O‘ahu and one on Maui.
“I’m really disheartened to have to report today that the woman who died in O‘ahu aged 60 to 69 years of age was fully vaccinated,” said Brooks Baehr, COVID-19 and pandemic response administrative assistant of the DOH, in a Zoom meeting. “Now it’s important to realize that this woman had multiple underlying conditions,” he said of the “breakthrough” death, or death of one who was fully immunized.
DOH State Laboratories Division Administrator Dr. Edward Desmond reported in a virtual meeting that in the period ending July 3, for the specimens that were collected, 55% of the state’s COVID cases were due to the delta variant.
Desmond said that prior to this, the rate was about 17%.
“This is more or less what was anticipated, that this one variant is present in the population,” Desmond said. “It expands and it’s more transmissible than the other variants.”
Desmond said the increased number of cases may possibly be linked to the presence of this variant in the community’s population.
DOH Kaua‘i District Health Officer Dr. Janet Berreman said it’s not a surprise that another new report shows new clusters on every island in the state.
“I think the most-important message in the cluster report is that the disease is not contained to a particular type of setting or a particular geographic location in our state,” Berreman said. “We’re seeing widespread community transmission. And those common features are the things that Brooks mentioned — people who are unvaccinated.”
The reason for the recent high numbers in the community spread, according to Berreman, is settings in which people are not consistently wearing masks, especially indoors. Settings where a larger number of people are spending prolonged time close together indoors. And often that’s when people are eating and drinking.
“Places like restaurants and bars are at-risk, shelters and places where people spend long periods of time or a lodge are at risk,” Berreman said. “We’re seeing clusters in places of worship, again, where there may be larger groups of people indoors, inconsistently masked over longer periods of time.”
With the new school year just two weeks away, Berreman also addressed cases Thursday that are kids who are not eligible for vaccines yet because they are 11 years old and younger.
“I would say the first thing is that every student going back to school who is 12 years of age or older should be vaccinated. If they haven’t started yet, they should start today,” Berreman said.
Berreman also mentioned that updated guidance for schools that the DOH, state Department of Education and other school partners have been working on is very close to completion.
“I was involved in one of those conversations with the advisory committee (Wednesday) night,” Berreman said. “I think the recommendations are very strong. They will not be 100% guaranteed certainly of no disease in schools, but they have a very strong and appropriate measure of protection for the students, especially given the additional protection offered by vaccination among all of the adults and all of the eligible students who choose to be vaccinated.”
Thursday, the DOH reported 243 new COVID-19 cases, which include 146 on O‘ahu, 50 on Hawai‘i Island, 14 on Maui and seven on Kaua‘i. This is the eighth day in a row the state has reported triple-digit numbers.
“The 50 cases on the Big Island are among groups of friends and family, and Hawai‘i County is responding by offering free COVID community testing events in response to the increase in cases,” Baehr said. “Really, what we’re seeing here is widespread community transmission around the state.”
According to Baehr, Hawai‘i has now 527 COVID-19 death cases statewide. Two of those have been among vaccinated people.
That means the 525 involve people who were unvaccinated.
“Since we have had fully vaccinated people in Hawai‘i, more than 98% of the deaths here have been among unvaccinated people,” Baehr said. “So the vaccines continue to prove that they are tremendously effective. They are our best path out of this pandemic, and people can be part of the solution by getting vaccinated.”
Stephanie Shinno, education and business reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.