No shutdown is deliberate for Hawaii, says Governor David Ige

Governor David Ige said Monday that in Hawaii, despite the continued spike in COVID-19 cases on the islands, which overstretched hospitals’ resources and prompted the governor to sign one executive earlier this month, it is not another Complete shutdown will come an arrangement to shield healthcare facilities from liability when they need to ration critical care.

If he imposes further restrictions, Ige said it would likely come in the form of curfews or further restrictions on the size of social gatherings.

But for now, hospital admissions of COVID-19 patients have remained stable, and there are signs that the rapid surge in coronavirus cases is subsiding. The Ministry of Health reported 461 new coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the seven-day average for new cases to 567. That’s 37% less than two weeks ago, according to state data. The number of positive COVID-19 tests across the country also fell to 6.9% on Monday, from 7.8% two weeks ago.

392 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized on Monday, compared with 435 people a week ago. The number of people in intensive care units, who are particularly worried by health authorities, has also fallen from more than 100 a week ago to 79 on Monday.

“It’s getting a little better, but I think it’s too early to call it a definitive trend that would provide relief,” Ige told the Honolulu Star Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii livestream on Monday.

State officials were concerned the Labor Day holiday could spike cases, but gatherings seemed subdued over the three-day weekend.

Ige said a significant increase in hospital admissions and ICU patients would be the trigger for new restrictions. If so, he would consider a curfew, which could reduce the number of accident-related emergency rooms. He also said he would consider further restricting social gatherings. Social gatherings are currently limited to 10 people; this could be reduced to five people. The limit outdoors is 25 people, which could be limited to 10.

But it was clear to Ige that there were no plans for the draconian measures in 2020.

“I can tell you pretty well that there will be no further complete shutdown,” said Ige, which he attributed, among other things, to the state’s high vaccination rate.

The vaccination rate in Hawaii is among the highest in the country, and the recent surge in Delta cases, coupled with a number of employer and government-based vaccine requirements, has accelerated the pace of vaccination. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also granted full approval of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine last month, which likely helped sway the holdouts.

According to state data, there are only 165,680 eligible Hawaiian residents out of a total population of 1.42 million who have not at least begun the vaccination process. Children under the age of 12 are still not eligible for the vaccine.

76.6% of the eligible population in Hawaii are now fully vaccinated while 86.4% of the eligible population have received at least one vaccination. By comparison, 63% of the eligible US population are fully vaccinated while 74% received at least one vaccination, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ige’s comments reflect a significant shift in public policy regarding the coronavirus. While prior to vaccination the focus was on controlling cases, the focus now is on ensuring adequate health care resources. In addition to the widespread availability of free vaccines, Ige found that treatment for COVID-19 has improved.

“We have much, much better therapeutics and we definitely know how to treat COVID much better,” he said.

At the start of the pandemic, around 7 to 10% of people who tested positive for COVID-19 ended up in hospital. That rate has dropped to 3%, said Ige.

Although the state has adequate hospital beds, staffing has been a major hurdle, prompting the state to hire an additional 600 nurses and other medical professionals to assist COVID-19 patients. A team of 30 clinicians will also arrive in the state later this month to help administer monoclonal antibody therapy that can reduce the severity of the disease in people recently infected with COVID-19. This treatment is already available in hospitals, but the team will help expand access.

Ige also said Monday that no Hawaii hospital has had to implement “crisis care standards” where critical health care may need to be rationed to those most likely to survive.

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