Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Mayor Suspects he has Omicron Variant

By Tom Hasslinger
December 27, 2021, 2:00 PM HST
* Updated December 27, 1:45 PM
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Hawai‘i County Mayor Mitch Roth said he believes he contracted the Omicron variant.

On Monday, Dec. 27, Roth’s office issued a press release stating that the first-term mayor tested positive for COVID-19 over the Christmas weekend and, speaking with Big Island Now later that day, Roth said he suspects he came down with the highly communicable strain that hit O‘ahu earlier this month and is at the heart of the state’s recent surge in new cases.

“They won’t tell you for sure, but from everything I’m seeing and reading it most likely is,” Roth said of his case being Omicron.

Roth was asymptomatic when he was tested and is currently experiencing mild symptoms related to the virus, the press release stated. The mayor told Big Island Now on Monday morning that he has a scratchy throat and a stuffy nose, as though he has a bad cold, symptoms commonly associated with the Omicron variant.

“Other than that I feel great,” Roth said, noting he had none of the severe symptoms associated with COVID-19, such as loss of appetite or smell or difficulty breathing. “It’s pretty easy.”

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Roth said he tested because his son was recently with a friend who tested positive. Roth was giving his son, home for Christmas, a ride when he learned that news, and began to self-quarantine immediately after. Roth, who had been immunized against the virus and had his booster shot about a month ago, applied a home-test shortly after, and it came back negative, but then tested again later and it came back positive. His son also tested positive. Roth estimated he and his son spent a total of 15 minutes together in the car.

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“That’s all it took,” the Roth said. “It’s very, very communicable.”

The State of Hawai‘i is experiencing a surge in new cases that started around three weeks ago. Today, 1,384 new COVID-19 cases were announced. On Sunday, more than 2,000 new cases were reported. At the beginning of December, new case numbers for the state were just over 100 per day. The Department of Health said the high communicable Omicron variant was playing a big part in the dramatic increase in new infections.

On Monday, the Department of Health reported for Hawai‘i Island 103 new cases, 625 active cases, and three persons hospitalized.

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Roth’s entire household is also fully vaccinated. Roth was set to be out on vacation this week and will remain home to quarantine for 10 days, per county, state, and federal rules, the press release stated.

Roth said he was disappointed to learn of his positive test, considering he followed every precaution as outlined by the CDC and health experts. The former Hawaii County Prosecutor also suffered a heart attack in early January, just months after winning the election for mayor. Since that episode, he had been monitoring his blood pressure and oxygen levels every day, and said he is especially aware of the importance of keeping sight of those underlying conditions with the new diagnosis.

“I’m very lucky to have a couple of awesome doctors,” Roth said, adding he’s using the quarantine period for some forced rest and relaxation.

He stressed the importance of getting vaccinated and following medical directives when it comes to taking precautions against the virus.

“Getting vaccinated and, most importantly, getting boosted can minimize the chance of severe illness and keep us out of the hospitals,” Roth said in the press release, which he reiterated to Big Island Now. “I’m only experiencing minor symptoms because of the vaccines, and I would like to encourage all of you who haven’t gotten yours yet to please go ahead and do so. The virus is spreading at a rampant rate and will take a toll on our medical resources if we don’t all do our part. The power is really in our hands, and we have to take this seriously.”

For those who wish not to vaccinate, Roth stressed the importance of following the other safety protocols such as social distancing, wearing masks and getting tested early and often should they suspect they were in close contact with a positive case.

Elena Cabatu, director of marketing at Hilo Medical Center, agreed with Roth that immunizations don’t guarantee against non-infection, but do go a long way in reducing the chance of getting infected or minimizing symptoms of those who do.

“Vaccination reduces severity and hospitalizations,” she wrote to Big Island Now.

Judy Donovan, spokeswoman for Kona Community Hospital, said the hospital in Kealakekua hasn’t been inundated with COVID-19 since the recent surge began, but is expecting that to change given what’s happening statewide.

“We suspect it will because O‘ahu was hit so hard,” she said.

They’re communicating to staff and the community to remain vigilant against preventing the spread, which can be a difficult message with New Year’s Eve around the corner.

“Now is not the time to let your guard down,” she said.

The County of Hawaiʻi reminded residents to stay home if they’re feeling ill, mask up, distance when possible, and gather outdoors to celebrate the New Year. All residents who feel sick or are in close contact with a known positive should get tested.

County-approved testing vendors can be found on the Civil Defense webpage at hawaiicounty.gov/testing. Vaccine and booster information can also be found on the Civil Defense webpage at hawaiicounty.gov/vaccination.

Tom Hasslinger
Tom Hasslinger is a journalist who lives in Kailua-Kona. Prior to joining Big Island Now, he worked as the managing editor for West Hawaii Today and deputy editor for The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai. He's worked for over 15 years as a reporter for the Oahu-based Civil Beat news outlet, as well as in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Douglas Wyoming.
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