Triple-digit COVID-19 cases in Hawaii continue

For the fifth day in a row, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Hawaii have hit triple digits.

The state Department of Health on Monday reported 134 confirmed and probable cases, including 21 on the Big Island, four on Kauai, nine on Maui, 88 on Oahu and 10 out-of-state.

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Thursday — when 166 new cases were reported — marked the highest single-day case count since mid-January.

Meanwhile, 147 cases were reported statewide Friday, 124 cases on Saturday and 164 new cases were reported Sunday.

The statewide test positivity rate has now spiked to 3.3% with an average of 106 new cases daily, according to data from the DOH. That’s compared to a seven-day average of 48 new cases reported on July 4.

The Big Island has a 4.1% positivity rate which is second only to Kauai’s 4.2%. The City and County of Honolulu has a 3.6% positivity rate and Maui County has a 2.1% positivity rate.

According to the DOH, 54 cases have been reported in Hilo over the past 14 days, while 23 have been reported in North Hawaii and 26 in Kailua-Kona during that same time period.

“We are seeing widespread community transmission among unvaccinated people,” DOH spokesman Brooks Baehr said Monday. “Unvaccinated residents are being infected while traveling. Unvaccinated people are being infected while not wearing masks indoors. Children who are not eligible to be vaccinated are being infected by unvaccinated adults.”

About 20% of new cases regularly involve keiki under 18, Baehr said.

Cyrus Johnasen, a spokesman for Mayor Mitch Roth said via email the uptick in cases was likely caused by increased gatherings during the Fourth of July and graduation season.

The county encourages everyone to be mindful when gathering.

“All it takes is one person to impact their entire household and eventually the community,” he said. “We know folks want to celebrate, and that’s more than alright. We just have to do it with the best of our loved ones in mind.”

According to Johnasen, there are no changes to the county’s COVID restrictions planned at this time.

“However, the slight uptick in positive cases has prompted us to reinstate our free community testing program, which we hope to use as a tool to mitigate community spread and track data related to COVID-19 in our communities,” he said. “That said, we believe that our residents are committed to stopping the spread and will continue to practice safe habits as we begin our return to normalcy.”

Hawaii County announced Monday it will restart its testing program to address the uptick in COVID-19 cases and help better prepare for the transition to the upcoming school year.

Testing will be available from 3-6 p.m. Tuesdays at the Kona Community Aquatic Center in Kailua-Kona and Wednesdays at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo through August.

The first round of testing begins today in Kailua-Kona. S&G Labs will administer the tests.

“We’re excited to bring back our free community COVID-19 testing program,” Roth said in a news release. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, community testing has allowed us to gather invaluable data and catch many cases that helped to significantly reduce community spread. Although testing is a great tool to fight against COVID-19, there is no defense like a vaccination. We now know that the vast majority of individuals that are getting extremely sick from the virus are those who haven’t been vaccinated, and we would like to ask that we all go out and encourage our loved ones to get vaccinated for the health of our community.”

That’s a sentiment shared by state health officials.

The timing of the recent spike in cases indicates Fourth of July gatherings played a role in virus transmission among unvaccinated people, Baehr said, but new infections aren’t limited to the holiday weekend.

“The Delta variant is also taking root across the state, finding unvaccinated people to infect,” Baehr said in an email to the Tribune-Herald. “Delta cases have doubled every two weeks in other places and we expect the same is happening in Hawaii.

“We urge those who are eligible and not yet vaccinated to please get vaccinated soon,” he continued. “The vaccines prevent almost all severe illness and death. People can protect themselves and their loved ones by being vaccinated.”

As of Sunday, 1,729,885 total vaccine doses have been administered statewide.

Some 59.3% of Hawaii’s residents have been fully vaccinated while 65.7% have received at least one dose. In Hawaii County, 55% of residents have been fully vaccinated and 64% have started a vaccination series.

To help bolster lagging vaccination rates, the second phase of the HI Got Vaccinated incentive program launched Monday.

The initiative offers vaccinated residents discounts at retailers across the state and a chance to win a variety of prizes.

The initiative kicked off last month but the first phase concluded June 30.

Prizes offered in round two include three $5,000 cash awards from American Savings Bank, a “staycation” package at Kaimana Beach Hotel, prizes from Kualoa Private Nature Reserve and the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu; a $1,000 Foodland gift card; $1,000 cash from Hawaiian Financial Federal Credit Union; $1,000 gift card to STRIPSTEAK Waikiki, among others.

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Hawaii residents 18 and older who are vaccinated can enter to win at HIGotVaccinated.com.

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