Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Monday that the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in Hawaii reflects increased activity among residents as restrictions are lifted.
“There’s no reason to blame anybody. (Recent triple-digit case counts) are a reality of people gathering and not being quite safe enough,” Green, a Big Island physician, said during a livestream with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
The number of new cases reported in Hawaii has hit triple-digits on several days in the past week.
The state Department of Health reported 103 new cases Monday, 102 new cases on Sunday, 113 new cases Saturday and 125 new cases on Friday.
With more than 600,000 vaccines administered across Hawaii, Green said many people are getting a false sense of security.
“So, people think we’re safer, but we only have 25% of our people vaccinated right now,” he said. “So, we still are very vulnerable. The case counts are going to keep going up if we’re not a little smarter. We need to still socially distance and still wear masks, and we have do it well beyond getting most of our people vaccinated. Otherwise, we will see case counts up back in the 200 range, and that will certainly trigger a setback.”
According to Green, people 18-44 now make up most of Hawaii’s COVID-19 cases.
While most younger people don’t get severely ill, Green said they’re not immune from catching the disease, hospitalization or death.
Meanwhile, those 65 and older — the age group eligible for vaccines — represent the lowest rate of infection in the state.
“We’ve seen the case counts drop off like a steep cliff for those who have gotten vaccinated, if they’re 65 and older, and fewer people in the hospital that are in that age category,” he said.
Now that eligibility has expended to those 60-64, Green said he expects to see the same trend.
Green said visitors to Hawaii attribute very little to the case counts.
“I’m not worried about travel-related cases right now,” he said. “I’m only worried about clusters and spread at the present, and the clusters and spread have been very significant on Maui.”
Maui County currently has a test positivity of 3.4% — the highest in the state.
When asked about interisland travel, Green said because there is ample health care capacity available, restrictions between islands have little value.
“The only part of the interisland quarantine that made any sense at any point was preventing a surge in cases where there was no health care capacity,” he said. “And Kauai always has had less health care capacity, so they made some compelling arguments to be a little safer. … But right now, there’s more than enough beds on Maui, there’s lots and lots of health care access on Oahu. So having these kinds of quarantines between islands is not particularly valuable. It just doesn’t do very much. We are ultimately one state and one state of resources.”
Green said it takes a lot of extra resources to police interisland travel, and it would be better to use those resources to vaccinate more people.
He also thinks the pre-travel tests will be replaced this summer with a “vaccine passport” as the main way trans-Pacific travelers can avoid mandatory quarantine upon arrival.
For a vaccine passport or verification program, Green said, “all you really need is to be able to show that you’re vaccinated.”
That could be “old school,” by showing a vaccination card and identification, he explained.
Those who falsify the record would be penalized.
“Not a lot of people are that stupid to come for a vacation and face up to a $5,000 fine because they didn’t want to do their vaccination,” Green said. “It’s very unlikely. But having said that, that is one option.”
What’s preferred, however, is a database and app where someone could upload their vaccination card or verification and get a QR code, “and you’re good. That’s what we’re working on” at the state level.
According to Green, a federal initiative would still need to access Hawaii’s data.
“So, it’s more likely we will develop this internally and hook into a federal program, and that’s probably what all 50 states will have to do,” he said.
Green said a passport program will fortify the state’s Safe Travels program.
“Come May, I think around May 15 — if we work as hard as we can at this, and we are — if we have this up and operational, you’ll be able to either get a pre-test and travel to Hawaii … and/or you have your vaccine passport, and that should be enough. That will give people a lot of certainty as to their travel. Right now, people are somewhat reluctant to travel to Hawaii if they get a pre-test, because they don’t know if they’re going to test positive within three days of their trip.”
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.