Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Ige Considering Vaccine Rules For State, County Workers as COVID Cases Soar to New Heights

By Max Dible
July 30, 2021, 4:58 PM HST
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Coronavirus is surging in Hawai´i worse than it ever has since the pandemic began in early 2020.

Wikipedia image.

As a result, the State of Hawai´i is considering mimicking at the state and county levels a set of new federal guidelines that require all federal employees and contractors to prove they’ve been vaccinated or face harsh regulations.

“Certainly, we are having discussions about state and county employees,” Gov. David Ige told media members on Friday afternoon, July 30. “We are working to get information about how (the federal government) would be implementing (these guidelines), and what the parameters and requirements would be.”

President of the United States Joe Biden on Thursday, July 29, announced the new and stringent set of vaccination rules for federal workers, which will impact upwards of 20,000 federal employees across the Hawaiian Islands.

Under the newly implemented guidance, federal employees will have to prove they’ve been vaccinated or submit to regular testing. Those workers who choose not to get the vaccine will also be subject to travel restrictions and will be required to wear masks while on the job.

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Testing will be required once or twice weekly, and most of those employees will not be allowed to engage in work travel save for a minimal number of exceptions, according to a report by the Associated Press.

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The governor did not indicate that similar mandates were imminent for state or county workers. However, the longer the current COVID-19 spike persists in Hawai´i and the larger the numbers get, the more likely new restrictions are created, or old restrictions are revived.

A total of 622 new cases of the virus were identified statewide Friday, though that tally was higher than it normally would have been due to reporting glitches over the previous two days.

The previous daily high was 355 cases in August, which State Department of Health (DOH) Director Dr. Elizabeth Char said would have been surpassed on at least one, if not each, of the previous three days (Wednesday-Friday). The only reason it wasn’t is because of a connectivity glitch in the system that impeded the timely reporting of positive coronavirus tests across all Hawaiian Islands.

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“If you look at trends and average it out, it’s over 300 per day the last three days,” Char said. “It would be higher than the 355 peak that we saw in last year’s rapid escalation of the cases.”

But that’s actually not the worst of it, she continued. More than a single day of cases, the DOH pays attention to viral trends. The current seven-day average for new incidences of COVID-19 in Hawai´i is 230, with a 5.1% test positivity rate. This represents a significant increase over the period prior, which is a pattern that first emerged weeks ago and has held ever since.

The governor and health director continued to push vaccines as the best, and really only, answer to the problem. As of Friday, more than 60% of the state was fully vaccinated, with nearly 67% having received at least one dose.

While Ige said new virus restrictions could come, or old ones could be renewed, he also remained committed Friday to dropping all COVID-19 mandates and regulations once the state hits its target goal of 70% of the population fully vaccinated. That is expected to occur at some point in early September 2021, based on current vaccination rates.

Hawai´i is also pondering the instatement of a program that would offer monetary benefit to all those who are vaccinated, potentially up to $100 per person. Ige said the last several days have shown an increased interest in vaccinations across the Hawaiian Islands, as the more transmissible and severe Delta variant has become the dominant strain in the state.

More than 400 sites in Hawai´i offer the shot(s) free of charge to anyone interested, including your local pharmacy. All those aged 12 years and older are eligible to receive vaccination.

Ige and Char acknowledged that the surge of Delta variant cases has made even those who are vaccinated more susceptible to infection. However, Char said the current rate of so-called “breakout cases,” in which vaccinated individuals become infected with the virus after completing their vaccination schedules, stands at 0.06%. That means that, based on DOH data, approximately 6 individuals out of 10,000 who are fully vaccinated end up sick with and/or potentially dying of the illness. That number jumps to about 300 for every 10,000 unvaccinated individuals.

The governor claimed Friday that many of the breakthrough cases have occurred from interacting with people who may not have been vaccinated and are failing to socially distance. Unless you know the vaccination status of everyone you’re with, and you are vaccinated yourself, you should continue to wear a mask indoors, Ige said.

A total of 111 new cases of the virus were identified on the Big Island Friday, with 521 active cases reported and 16 people currently in the hospital with severe COVID infection, according to Hawai´i County Civil Defense. A total of eight COVID-related deaths have also been reported across all Hawaiian Islands over the last three days.

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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