COVID-19 cases spiking in state

LIHU‘E — Hawai‘i’s COVID-19 case counts have spiked.

“Statewide, case counts are rapidly increasing, likely due to the omicron variant, large gatherings, increased travel and holiday get-togethers,” state Department of Health Kaua‘i Deputy District Health Officer Lauren Guest said Monday.

On Kaua‘i, Guest said, case counts are “elevated but steady.” But unlike the past month where the island experienced a spike in community-acquired cases, there is now an increase in travel-related cases, which can likely be linked to the omicron variant, which early data has shown spreads more easily.

“Dozens of cases of the omicron variant are confirmed on O‘ahu, and it is safe to assume it will be spreading on Kaua‘i very soon if it is not already,” Mayor Derek Kawakami said Monday.

The DOH announced that it has identified 50 total cases of the omicron variant, 49 of which are on O‘ahu. The department reported 840 new coronavirus infections across the state Monday.

“I think it’s important to understand how omicron is surging elsewhere,” said Dr. Janet Berreman, KDHO health officer.

”For example, in European countries with vaccination rates similar to ours in Hawai‘i, omicron cases are estimated to be doubling every two days,” Berreman said. “That is an incredibly rapid rate of increase.”

Berreman agreed that the latest variant is likely circulating in the community.

”We know that omicron is in our state and established in our communities,” Berreman said. “Its arrival and spread are inevitable. We will not be able to prevent it. Fortunately, it appears that omicron causes less-severe disease than prior variants, but it is still too early to know for sure.”

Berreman said early studies have shown that vaccination can reduce the risk of severe disease and hospitalization. For example, Moderna reported that its booster shot has increased protection against omicron.

“Although omicron is a new variant, it is still a COVID-19 virus. Its spread is respiratory: you catch it by breathing in air exhaled by an infected person,” Berreman said, suggesting the use of masks, avoiding crowds, keeping distance and washing hands, in addition to vaccination, are still key to mitigating the spread of the disease.

Monday, the KDHO reported a COVID-19-related fatality of a female resident in her 60s who was hospitalized. This brings the county’s fatality count to 15, which includes 13 residents and two visitors.

The KDHO also reported 14 new cases of COVID-19 on Kaua‘i Monday, including one visitor and 13 residents.

Of the 14 new cases, one is a child and 13 are adults. Eight of the cases are related to travel, while the remaining six cases are considered community-acquired.

This brings the county’s active cases to 89, with six hospitalized.

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