“These are the darkest days of the pandemic for us,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Friday.
Green, a Big Island emergency room physician, said during a livestream that 90% of the people hospitalized statewide with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
“So, 381 individuals in the hospital, and … 38 people vaccinated, exactly 10% of the 381 people that were in the hospital with COVID,” Green said. “We also had four fatalities (Thursday), and we have more than 50 people in the intensive care units on a ventilator, where 50-50 chances are that you will die.”
The high rate of COVID hospitalizations, fueled by the Delta variant, is taking away resources needed for others, he said.
Green said he knows of a breast cancer patient whose mastectomy was been delayed because a hospital doesn’t “have an ICU bed for her recovery,” and a 74-year-old man he treated for a heart attack last weekend, fully vaccinated and COVID-free, who was forced to wait hours to be flown to The Queen’s Medical Center.
“Anyone who’s not vaccinated needs to know that if they catch COVID and are among the 4.5% who get hospitalized, they of course will be cared for professionally and lovingly, but they will be taking beds away from people who have car accidents, who have strokes, who have heart attacks. And that’s not necessary,” Green said.
“If we had been fully vaccinated at 95%, say, leaving only 5% who have serious philosophical or religious reasons not to get vaccinated, you and I would be talking about 20 people in the hospital and possibly 30 cases across the state. Instead, we’re talking about 800 cases-plus (daily), and we’re talking about 381 people in the hospital.”
Green said almost 83% of those eligible for vaccinations have received at least one shot — about 994,000 out of 1.2 million people.
“When the FDA fully approves the vaccination, I do believe that 100,000 out of the 225,000 (unvaccinated) individuals in Hawaii will choose to get vaccinated,” he said. “That’s what the numbers have suggested through polling and discussions. … When they approve the vaccination for ages 5 to 11, we should get another 40,000 to 50,000 young citizens vaccinated.”
Green said he thinks that vaccination verification for individuals to enter a bar, restaurant or gym or to use public transportation or other facilities, such as libraries, might occur, and the state is developing an app to be used if the policy is implemented.
“That’s what they’re doing in New York. That’s what they’re doing in San Francisco. And that would prevent spread, so we’re working up that policy and giving that as an option to the governor,” he said.
The lieutenant governor said surveillance testing in schools also is a possibility in the near term.
“We’re already testing a lot of kids in schools, and we have a program up right now where children or families can request tests and they get them for free (at) our pharmacies,” he explained. “That data will begin to roll in, and we’ll know in which regions our schools are having the highest positivity rates.”
Mayor Mitch Roth on Wednesday urged Gov. David Ige to reinstate pretravel COVID-19 testing for all trans-Pacific passengers arriving in the islands, regardless of vaccination or residency status.
Green said he doesn’t think that will be approved.
“The reason it hasn’t already been reimplemented — in other words, making everyone pretest before coming — is because the CDC has given us … a national ruling that travel, if people are vaccinated, is safe. Therefore, after talking to our attorney general and other lawyers on our team, they tell us it won’t stand up in court,” Green said. “… Having said that, reimplementing a pretest would do a couple of things. It would catch some cases, there is no doubt about it. And that would be helpful. But that’s not where the largest problem lies.
“One to 2% of our cases are coming from (visitors). About 12% of our cases are coming from residents returning that are unvaccinated and refusing to test. Remember, we’re not allowed to legally demand a test. All we can legally do is to put people into quarantine.”
Roth said he hadn’t heard Green’s comments about pretravel testing, but said he’s had a conversation with Ige regarding the request, and added the governor is considering it, among other measures.
“I think he’s taking a whole bunch of things into consideration,” Roth said.
Green said reinstating the pretravel testing despite potential lawsuits would probably, at least temporarily, cut by half the 30,000-some daily trans-Pacific arrivals, because it’s difficult to get a test amidst the mainland COVID surge.
“With fewer people coming, there would be fewer people working and interacting with one another, so case counts could come down,” Green said. “But the cost would be … poverty would rise, people would not be able to pay their rent, and so on.
“The only real successful thing we can do is to … convince people to be vaccinated either because they listened to their doctor or nurse, or because the FDA approval (convinced) them to get it. The other thing we can do is … to not have any gatherings if we are unvaccinated.
“Unvaccinated gatherings are absolutely spreading this disease.”
Reporter Stephanie Salmons contributed to this story.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.