LIHU‘E — Kaua‘i County recorded single-digit numbers of new daily COVID-19 cases this week for the first time since the beginning of August, marking a milestone in the community’s fight as the worst surge of the pandemic thus far begins to wane.
“Kaua‘i County still has a higher average daily rate of cases than the state as a whole, on a per-population basis,” said Dr. Janet Berreman of the state Department of Health Kaua‘i District Health Office.
“I think it’s too soon to say we are out of the surge, but things are definitely moving in the right direction.”
The KDHO reported eight new cases on both Thursday and Wednesday, nine Tuesday and seven Monday. Prior to this week, the last time Kaua‘i saw single-digit new cases was on Aug. 5.
COVID-19 infection data on Kaua‘i seems to indicate that the worst of the August-September surge, which was widely attributed to the rise and spread of the delta variant, is receding, though the danger remains.
As of July 31, 2021 — more than a year into the pandemic — the cumulative case count on Kaua‘i stood at 608. Since then, that figure jumped by 315% to 2,523 total cases, as reported by the KDHO on Thursday.
Berreman confirmed that the delta variant, which is far-more-contagious than the base COVID-19 virus, was responsible for the wave of new cases.
“Despite our strong control measures and relatively high vaccination rates, the delta variant’s very-high level of transmissibility was able to overcome those protections and cause a dramatic surge in cases,” she said.
Visitors and tourists accounted for just a fraction of that increase. Of the 1,897 cases added since the beginning of August, 1,592 have been in Kaua‘i residents — a rate of roughly 84% — and only 292 in total have been linked to travel, both interisland or mainland, according to data from the KDHO.
COVID-19 among keiki accounted for roughly 23.9% of new cases of the disease since Aug. 1, a rate comparable to the 26% rate observed in July.
Both new cases and active cases of COVID-19 on Kaua‘i are also at their lowest point since the beginning of August. On Thursday, the KDHO reported 66 active cases, down from the peak of 325 on Sept. 2. Active cases first exceeded 100 on Aug. 7 and increased into early September before slowly declining.
As recently as Oct. 9, however, there were 114 active cases on Kaua‘i, indicating both that the prevalence of COVID-19 has dropped sharply in recent weeks and that the risk of infection remains significant.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 on Kaua‘i are at the lowest point since mid-August, with the KDHO reporting one person in the hospital as of Thursday. That trend has been mirrored at the state level, with hospitalizations across Hawai‘i on the decline after health centers were pummelled earlier this year.
“The health-care system was also challenged by the increase in cases and hospitalizations, although we were fortunate never to approach our maximum capacity,” Berreman said.
“Although the volume of cases was challenging, we were also better positioned than we were in the earlier months of the pandemic. We had knowledge and experience in controlling the spread of the virus, and our entire community stepped up and was part of bringing things back under control.”
According to data from Hawai‘i Pandemic Applied Modeling, the number of intensive-care-unit beds in use in Hawai‘i had dropped to 39 as of Oct. 12 from a peak of 102 on Sept. 5. Notably, that figure has still not recovered to pre-surge levels (for example, the same source put the number of ICU beds in use on Aug. 3 at 24).
Of the 12 people who have died due to COVID-19 on Kaua‘i, 10 lost their lives since the end of July. The most-recent death was reported on Oct. 4 — a male visitor in his 50s.
Despite the delta surge, vaccination rates on Kaua‘i made only modest gains in recent months, continuing a plateauing trend that began in June. According to data from the DOH, 47,408 Kaua‘i residents were fully vaccinated as of Oct. 13.
According to the state DOH, that puts the rate of full vaccination on Kaua‘i at about 66%. If those who have initiated vaccination and received at least one dose of a two-dose vaccine are included, then the rate jumps to 72%, which is the lowest such rate among Hawai‘i’s counties.
Berreman, as countless public-health officials have this year, urged those who have not yet been vaccinated to do so, saying that the best defense against COVID-19 is the jab.
“Loosening of restrictions and letting our guard down can also let the virus spread again more widely,” Berreman said. “If we are willing to continue being cautious, we should be able to return to many of the activities we miss, like travel and gathering with friends and family.”
Kaleb Lay, general assignment reporter, can be reached at 647-0329 or firstname.lastname@example.org.