Green: Most COVID-10 restrictions could be dropped later this month

  • Syringes full of the Pfizer vaccine at The Arc of Hilo. (Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald file photo)

Lt. Gov. Josh Green believes the state could begin lowering COVID-19 restrictions in about two weeks.

During a livestreamed interview Monday — which was briefly postponed due to the worldwide disruption of Facebook — Green said that based on diminishing infection rates, the state could begin to return to normal very soon.

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“Four weeks ago today, we had 756 cases,” Green said. “Two weeks ago, we had 431, and today we had 195.”

As of Monday, the statewide COVID-19 positivity rate had dropped to 3.5%, and only 175 people were hospitalized, a 60% decrease from four weeks ago. And 68.2% of residents now have completed a vaccine regimen, which Green said could precipitate a loosening of restrictions.

Earlier this year, Gov. David Ige said that all COVID-19 restrictions could be removed once 70% of people were vaccinated, a stance he has since abandoned in the face of the Delta variant. However, Green said Hawaii is approaching certain benchmarks — a 3% or lower COVID test positivity rate and a 50% or lower intensive care unit occupancy rate — that indicate the government could safely loosen restrictions.

“Let me give you a prediction: I predict that in two weeks or two and a half weeks, the mayors will come together and decide that most restrictions should be dropped, because counts should be much lower than they are today and very manageable in the hospitals,” Green said. “And there is an obvious and large and rational outcry to have some of the restrictions lifted — for example, sports. People should be able to watch their kids play sports. When they’re outdoors on Maui at the parks, when they’re in a stadium, if they’re vaccinated, these are easy ones to do.”

Green said he also expects restaurant limitations will be dropped as well, but added that he believes the Safe Travels program should remain in place for the time being.

But as the holiday season, historically a massive driver of the state’s economy, approaches, Green emphasized a need to return to “normal” soon. Green said Ige should reverse a statement he made earlier this year discouraging travelers from visiting Hawaii and signal to overseas tourists that the state is safe again.

“A very small minority of the population is leaving Gov. Ige in limbo,” Green said, referring to those who have yet to receive a vaccine dose.

On the other hand, Green, who is a physician, said ongoing vaccinations might still be necessary for the next year. Because studies have shown that individuals’ COVID-19 immunity decreases by 20%-25% about six months after being vaccinated, he said people likely will have to take regular booster shots through 2022, at which point the spread of the virus should be contained enough to be manageable.

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“We shouldn’t get another outbreak, but we’ll probably see instead small ‘mini-outbreaks’ in parts of our state that just never quite got to a good vaccination rate — really rural areas,” Green said. “They’ll get the benefit of herd immunity, but there will still be some outbreaks. But we’ll be able to manage them.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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