Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Big Island’s Coronavirus Decline Not Linked to Less Testing

By Max Dible
February 18, 2021, 4:18 PM HST
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COVID-19 cases are way down on the Big Island while the number of vaccinations continues to grow, but the County says those two developments are not entirely linked.

Fewer and fewer members of vulnerable populations are susceptible to the virus as more and more are inoculated, pushing coronavirus rates down. However, some community speculation has emerged as to whether the County’s focusing of resources on vaccination efforts over testing has resulted in artificially low numbers. Cyrus Johnasen, spokesperson for the Office of Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth, said that is not the case as funding for testing purposes has remained consistent despite the uptick in inoculations.

“Monies are pre-allocated and do not overlap. Funding that is set for testing is (used) for testing and vice versa,” Johnasen explained. “The County is still testing at the same capacity as we have been since the Roth Administration took office.”

After a year under the pandemic, most Big Islanders have had at least one intimate experience with the uncomfortable nasal swab that serves as the approved PCR test for COVID-19.

Johnasen said testing fatigue is hard to gauge but added that if it is measured by the overall number of tests administered, then fatigue has not yet set in.

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“It is hard to say if interest (in getting a test) has gone down, but the number of tests administered has been relatively similar,” he continued.

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On Thursday, a total of 67 cases of coronavirus were reported statewide including seven new cases identified on the Big Island, according to State Department of Health statistics. Those figures follow daily totals of 29 and 17 new cases reported across all islands the previous two days, as well as Big Island totals of zero, zero and one new case identified Monday through Wednesday. All of these numbers represent state and county lows since the summer of 2020.

“It is not a product of reduced testing,” Johnasen said. “We have to believe that the low rates result from community caring for community by following all of the protocols and procedures in place to reduce the spread and keep each other safe.”

Another partial explanation for the lowest COVID tallies in months may reside with lab reporting concerns at the state level. Hawai‘i’s Tuesday and Wednesday virus totals are projected as undercounts due to reporting issues the state laboratory has said may persist for several days. What kind of statistical impact those problems have had on daily tallies remains to be discerned.

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As of Thursday, the state’s two-week average is 43 new cases of coronavirus daily, with a test positivity rate of 0.9%. Those numbers have not been adjusted to reflect possible undercounts.

Ever-increasing vaccination efforts should help continue to drive down infection rates over the next several months. Lt. Gov. Josh Green told Big Island Now Tuesday that if Hawai‘i dodges Super Bowl-related virus surges over the next week, then the administration’s focus will turn significantly toward getting as many people vaccinated as possible over the next several months.

To date, the state has administered more than 276K doses of the vaccine, according to the Hawai‘i COVID-19 Joint Information Center. Green said those numbers will top 300K by this weekend and exceed 350K by the end of the month. He expects at least 250K more inoculations to be administered statewide throughout the course of March.

“It is going to accelerate quite a lot,” he said.

Max Dible
Max Dible is the News Director for both Big Island Now and Kauai Now. He also serves as News Director for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations.
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