Coronavirus instances are anticipated to tumble in Hawaii, Lt. Gov. Josh Inexperienced
Hawaii should see a sharp drop in coronavirus cases over the next few weeks as 58% of the adult population, according to Lt. Gov. Josh Green received at least one dose of the vaccine. And while herd immunity seems increasingly unattainable on the mainland, Green expects Hawaii to hit that threshold as children become increasingly eligible for the vaccine.
“I think we are really on our way to becoming one of the best vaccinated states,” Green told Spotlight Hawaii on Monday.
Hawaii ranks third in the nation for the number of adults who receive at least one injection, according to The New York Times, which tracks vaccination rates in all states based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have. Approximately 41% of Hawaii’s residents are fully vaccinated.
Green says he expects the state’s case numbers to follow trends similar to Israel, where coronavirus cases plummeted after 55% of the population received at least one injection.
U.S. Department of Health officials reported 61 new coronavirus infections nationwide on Monday, bringing the total number of Hawaii’s since the pandemic started to 33,267 cases. The cases include 36 in Oahu, 11 in Maui, six in Kauai, and eight Hawaiian residents diagnosed outside of the state. The statistics reflect the new infections reported to the department on Saturday. The average seven-day case number in the state is 82.
Public health experts had hoped at the start of the pandemic that the country would quickly achieve herd immunity with the introduction of vaccines. But new, more contagious varieties and the slow pace of gunfire in some states have made reaching that threshold, where the virus lacks enough hosts to spread easily, increasingly doubtful.
Green, who is also a doctor, said he still believes the Hawaii goal is achievable. Health experts have said that herd immunity threshold could be reached when around 75 to 80% of a population is vaccinated. The rate has been adjusted upwards to accommodate more contagious variants.
Roughly 73% of Hawaiian adults 18 and older have been vaccinated, but the state is seeing increasing reluctance to vaccinate the rest of the population. Now that vaccines are being opened up to more and more children and adolescents, herd immunity is more achievable, Green said.
On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for children ages 12 to 15. The vaccine was already approved for people aged 16 and over. The latest approval opens the vaccine to about 55,000 more people in Hawaii.
“We are very excited to vaccinate a larger portion of our population,” said Libby Char, state health director, during a Zoom press conference the Monday following the announcement.
Children between the ages of 12 and 15 could start recording within a few days.
The approval gives hope that schools and school activities will largely normalize with the start of the next school year in August. To increase vaccination rates in schools, government officials are providing mobile vaccination clinics in public schools.
There are other signs of a return to normal. Starting today, fully vaccinated Hawaiian residents can fly between islands without a COVID-19 test to avoid a 10-day quarantine. Travelers must wait two weeks after the last dose before they can fly. Children under the age of 5 are also exempt from the examination requirement. Green said he expects vaccinated travelers from the mainland to enter the state freely by July without being subject to testing and quarantine rules.
Green signaled that the shift is now in the direction of reopening.
“I think people are right that they are tired of talking about tiered systems and other restrictions when our hospitals have been more than available for months to anyone who is sick,” said Green. “The truth is, there are many diseases that are stronger than COVID because we are out of the crisis.”