Hawaii’s number of new coronavirus cases every day rose to a record high of 655 on Thursday, this time with no delay from laboratory disruptions that were responsible for the surge.
That’s an 89.3% increase from Wednesday’s 346 cases, with the new cases on Thursday bringing the state’s total since the pandemic started to 44,617. The latest record, a daily high, came on July 30, when the state health department reported 622 cases, reflecting a delay from the previous days due to an interruption in the laboratory reporting system.
Health officials say it’s because of the highly transmissible Delta variant, which now makes up 81% of all the variants circulating in the state. Delta has been represented in all four major counties since at least mid-July.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who first posted the number of cases on Instagram, said COVID-19 cases are increasing “largely due to the highly infectious Delta variant.”
“The Delta variant rolls through the 250,000 unvaccinated people,” he said. “They take a very serious risk to their health and also to the health of those around them.”
He urged the quarter of a million eligible and not yet vaccinated to do so as soon as possible.
“These are the people who become infected with COVID, spread COVID and put others at risk,” he said, “so they need to take a personal inventory of this matter.”
The seven-day average of daily new cases on Thursday was 436 and the average positivity rate was 6.9%, the highest in a year, according to the Ministry of Health. Green said there were 4,391 active cases as of Thursday, seven times more than about 600 a month ago.
While these case numbers are worrying, he said more worrying is the growing number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals.
Green reported that there were 166 COVID-19 patients in hospitals on Thursday, up from 150 on Monday. The COVID-19 dashboard listed 164 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, 30 of them in intensive care and 18 on ventilators.
A child with COVID-19 was hospitalized this week, Green said in a follow-up post on Instagram later that afternoon.
“If the number of hospitals increases, it will limit our ability to care for everyone,” he said, adding that elective procedures such as orthopedic surgery would be postponed. “I think you will definitely see congregation size restrictions again.”
Green said Governor David Ige and the county mayors are likely to make announcements about pooling restrictions in the next few days.
Ige announced on Thursday afternoon that all state and county employees would have to provide proof of vaccination or undergo weekly tests by August 16.
Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said the state’s hospital resources were “few and far between.”
During a briefing for the State Senate’s COVID-19 committee on Thursday, Raethel said there were about 2,250 patients in hospital beds, of which a total of about 3,000 were available. Of these patients, 164 are COVID-19 patients, approximately 95% of whom are unvaccinated.
While hospitals are not yet at full capacity and ventilation levels are okay, he said hospital staff are stressed and many are burned out after battling the pandemic for a year and a half. Also, this year the hospitals are full of other patients alongside COVID-19 patients, while last year they were mostly full of the latter.
The association is working on an application to hire more than 500 additional staff, mostly emergency room and critical care nurses, to care for COVID-19 patients in approximately 20 acute hospitals in Hawaii with funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
That’s three times more than during the peak of the pandemic last summer, when about 140 mainland medical workers assisted hospitals in Hawaii.
Raethel said he was concerned about hospital capacity if the situation continues to escalate with no evidence that the peak has yet to be reached, and there is no evidence that positivity or infection rates are going down.
Many new COVID-19 cases result primarily from social gatherings, he told senators, especially in tight spaces or in cases where people eat or drink indoors for several hours without masks. Smaller gatherings reduce the risk of transmission, he said.
Raethel also told the senators he was expecting an announcement soon about the size restrictions on top officials.
A cluster report released Thursday by the DOH highlighted two clusters that resulted from summer volleyball tournaments held in indoor stadiums with thousands of participants in Las Vegas and Kansas City, Missouri.
Hawaiian residents who have traveled and attended these events tested positive for COVID-19 on their return home, including some who were fully vaccinated.
Health officials are investigating 38 clusters with more than 600 cases in all four major counties, including those that have erupted in educational institutions, workplaces, and social gatherings.
As of Thursday, 1,767,912 COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered nationwide, about 3,400 more than the previous day; 60.4% of the Hawaiian population have completed vaccinations; and 67.4% received at least one dose.