Uptick in COVID cases follows Thanksgiving holiday

  • MAGNO

The state and the Big Island have seen an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the weeks following Thanksgiving.

The state Department of Health reported 190 new cases statewide Monday, including 15 on the Big Island.

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Of the remaining cases, 158 were reported on Oahu, 15 on Maui and two were residents diagnosed outside Hawaii. On Oahu, 85 of the cases are associated with a cluster at Halawa Correctional Facility.

The number of daily new cases statewide increased from 91 on Dec. 7 to 112 on Monday. The DOH reported 81 new cases statewide Dec. 7, 53 new cases Dec. 8, 80 new cases Dec. 9, 123 cases Dec. 10 and 89 cases Dec. 11.

On Dec. 7, Hawaii County had a 1% test positivity rate compared to a 1.9% test positivity rate a week later.

Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno, however, said the situation on the Big Island “could be a lot worse” after Thanksgiving. The recent case counts fall well within the capabilities of health care providers to handle, he said.

“There is community spread, there is spread from travelers coming in, so we continue to monitor that and put out the message that by using preventive measures … that’s the start to stopping all the transmission,” he said.

Magno said the county has been “testing steadily” at its regular district testing sites. He attributes that to people being tested because of travel.

Crystal Nobriga, vice president of communications for Kona-based S&G Labs, one of the county’s testing partners, said there was a large increase in people coming through for testing the week before Thanksgiving and the week after.

S&G offers weekly testing at a number of Big Island sites, including the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo.

The lab tested another 310 people last Wednesday at the auditorium, “and had a long line of cars before we opened the gates,” Nobriga said.

“We’re also seeing an increase in testing at our site in Kona, where we offer testing seven days a week at the lab … ,” she said.

Nobriga said people of all ages are seeking COVID-19 tests and many families come into together either before or after a trip. A number of college students and private school boarders also are being tested upon arrival or before heading back to the mainland

Nobriga said the increase in positive cases on the Big Island isn’t surprising knowing how many travelers there were during the Thanksgiving holiday.

However, “it seems our island is doing really well,” she said.

“I hope we can maintain and just continue to get better,” Nobriga added. “We’ll have to see how things turn out throughout Christmas and New Year’s with more mainland travelers coming to the island. That’s something to definitely take into consideration and be prepared for.”

Meanwhile, Hawaii’s first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines arrived Monday at The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu — an initial delivery of 975 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The remaining 3,900 doses of Hawaii’s first order is expected to arrive Wednesday, and nearly 45,000 additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine are expected to arrive in Hawaii this month.

As many as 36,000 doses of a vaccine from Moderna also are expected by the end of the month, pending the vaccine’s approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

High risk, front-line health care workers and employees and residents of long-term care facilities will be the first to receive the vaccine.

“We’re very hopeful with the vaccine being issued,” Magno said. “We just need people to understand it will take a while for its effects to take hold and take a while for the dissemination of the vaccine. While it’s not that readily available at this point, eventually it will be and we’ll get the community immunized and hopefully things will get back to normal.”

Heading into Christmas and New Year’s, Magno hopes people will keep up with preventative practices and limit gathering sizes.

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“Now is not the time to be complacent,” he said. “We’ve gone through this whole year … doing pretty good and we need to just keep it up for several more months to make sure that our medical facilities are staying within their capacities so the people who need medical services will get the appropriate medical services.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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