Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Residents Rally in Pāhoa Against COVID-19 Vaccine, Testing Mandates

By Tiffany DeMasters
September 6, 2021, 3:04 PM HST
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For the third Saturday in a row, dozens of Hawaiʻi Island residents have gathered in the Pāhoa roundabout to protest against vaccination and testing mandates.

Clarity Logan, a Pāhoa resident, organized the weekly rally in response to Gov. David Ige’s vaccination requirements for state and county employees. Logan said the demonstration isn’t political.

“Personal choice and body autonomy are one of the things to protect as an individual,” Logan said. “I think anytime youʻre diminishing civil liberties for safety itʻs going in the wrong direction.”

Submitted photo

About 30 people were in the roundabout on Saturday, Sept. 4, socially distanced. Logan said Hawaiʻi Police Department has come by every weekend they were out there.

“Officers have been extremely nice to us and if anything appreciative of people standing up for their rights,” Logan said.

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On Aug. 5, 2021, Gov. David Ige announced that all state and county workers would be required to provide their vaccination status or submit to weekly testing. Nearly 88% of the state’s workforce was fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Aug. 16, officials reported Wednesday, Aug. 25.

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Weekly COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated county employees began Aug. 29.

The governorʻs mandate, Logan said, goes against protecting personal choice. She also believes the weekly testing for unvaccinated county and state employees is unfair.

“It seems like medical discrimination,” she said. “People who are vaccinated are also spreading the virus.”

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Jason Dela Cruz, acting district health officer for Hawaiʻi County, said there is no perfect solution, adding the vaccine and testing mandates are more of a policy decision.

“Weʻre really about trying to reduce the likelihood of spread,” Dela Cruz said. “As politically divided as we are, we arenʻt going to get full compliance.”

At this time, Dela Cruz said, the Department of Health data team is still working on a public-facing portal that offers real-time data on breakthrough cases. Click here for nationwide data on breakthrough cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to a KHON report, the DOH stated on one day during the week of Aug. 23, 13% of hospitalizations were breakthrough infections. Overall, the DOH reports that 68 out of the 2,400 breakthrough cases were hospitalized, representing just 3% of breakthrough infections.

Testing within the county was ramped up over the past six to eight weeks. Dela Cruz said there isnʻt so much a concern of running out of supplies but burning out the staff.

Dela Cruz said anyone who is experiencing symptoms, vaccinated or not, should get tested. Click here for guidance on when to get tested.

As of Monday, Sept. 6, Hawaiʻi Countyʻs positivity rate was 7.3% with an average of 106 new cases daily. Sixty-one percent of Big Island residents have been fully vaccinated. The average daily tests performed in the county are 1,471.

As of Friday, Sept. 3, Hilo Medical Center was treating 35 COVID patients, 29 of them are unvaccinated and six are vaccinated. As of Thursday, Sept. 2, there were 14 COVID-19 patients at Kona Community Hospital, all of whom are unvaccinated.

Logan said one of the most “intense arguments,”  coming against individuals who choose not to get vaccinated is that they are taking up ICU beds.

Itʻs not a fair thing, Logan added, to put the overcrowding on an average citizen who doesnʻt want to get vaccinated.

While COVID cases lulled for a few months, they began climbing in June with the arrival of the delta variant. Hospitalʻs statewide, Dela Cruz noted, have been overcrowded and overwhelmed with COVID-related patients due to the delta variantʻs high transmissibility.

“Delta is burning through households of the unvaccinated and even their vaccinated seniors cohabitating or children 11 and under (not eligible) are at risk of transmission,” Dela Cruz said. “Thankfully we aren’t seeing mortality at younger age levels but that doesn’t mean they aren’t having severe disease and potentially long COVID symptoms.”

Logan didnʻt argue the point that the hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID patients and staff is overworked. However, she believes the hospitals had time to prepare for the surge and extra variants that have spread around the world.

“All over the world we shifted our lives for a year to help them (hospitals) expand their capacity,” Logan said. “Thatʻs an adequate amount to prepare for extra variants.”

HMC officials say theyʻve expanded their ICU capacity from 11 beds to an additional six ICU patients on the Progressive Care Unit for a total of 17 ICU patients.

When the pandemic hit, Dela Cruz said standards of care were tested, vetted and employed around the world and at a local level. Hospitals around the state gained time to work on other potential actions including surge medical support, review of mass casualty plans, and acquire logistical support across the state through Healthcare Association of Hawaiʻi and Hawaiʻi Healthcare Emergency Management.

“The fact of the matter is our island is historically medically underserved,” Dela Cruz said. “This will affect us greatly and not something easily scaled up.”

No vaccine is 100% effective, he added, noting inoculation does add a layer of protection at this time.

“Future variants or waning vaccine-mediated immunity may alter that picture but for now, current data supports this hypothesis,” Dela Cruz said.

Logan said the group will continue to rally in the roundabout until state leaders recognize that people arenʻt OK with getting coerced into taking the COVID-19 vaccine.

If the past three Saturdays have proven anything to Logan, itʻs that they have support for their efforts and message.

“There are a ton of people in varying fields who donʻt feel supported or have the ability to take a stand,” Logan said, adding she is happy that she is in a position to be a voice for those individuals.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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