Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023|
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Hawaii is dangerously underestimating the omicron variant, a health care executive said Friday.
Scott Miscovich, president of Premier Medical Group, was critical of the state’s handling of the rapidly spreading COVID-19 variant during a livestreamed interview Friday, saying it will have more severe impacts than people seem to be giving it credit for.
“From the very beginning, we used the word ‘mild’ to describe omicron,” Miscovich said. “That has led to something planting in people’s brains to think, ‘Well, it’s mild, so I don’t have to worry about it.’”
However, Miscovich said, for people who have not been immunized against COVID-19 — whether through a vaccine or through contracting the virus previously — “(omicron) will kill you just like any other variety of COVID.”
Because the omicron variant originated in South Africa — where much of the population had already contracted earlier coronavirus strains — cases in that country appeared to be mild. Now, Miscovich said, data appears to indicate that the variant isn’t particularly less severe for those who are not vaccinated and have not had any prior exposure to the virus.
Worse, Miscovich said, it is still an open question whether the omicron variant will confer the same degree of partial immunity to future strains as previous variants did.
In Hawaii’s case, the state’s relatively high vaccination rate should cause the number of new daily cases to trend downward within a few weeks, Miscovich said. But he added that the state and county governments’ insistence on using hospitalization rates as the primary factor for changing COVID policies is misguided.
“We have not yet come to grips with long-term COVID,” Miscovich said. “We are disabling massive amounts of our population. We’re looking at that one little metric of 300, 400 (hospitalizations), but we can have 100,000 people infected, and … 8% will be permanently disabled.”
Hilo Medical Center spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said Friday that there were nine people in the hospital specifically for COVID. However, she added that there also were seven “incidental” cases, who had come to the hospital for other reasons, but were found to be COVID-positive upon arrival.
Of those 16 people, five were fully vaccinated, Cabatu said.
“It speaks to Miscovich’s point, that, if we’re having high numbers of cases on a daily basis, even if a small percentage of them are getting worse, that’s still a big number,” Cabatu said.
On Friday, the state Department of Health reported 3,586 new cases statewide, 286 of which were on the Big Island. Miscovich said that, because confirmed cases are only found in those who actually are tested, the actual daily number of infections in the state is closer to between 10,000 and 15,000.
DOH spokesman Brooks Baehr said Friday that the number of daily cases is too high to effectively determine how many cases are breakthrough cases — cases in which a person is infected despite being fully vaccinated.
“When we contact them after they test positive, we ask if they are vaccinated,” Baehr said via text message. “But now there are way too many cases for us to contact everyone who is COVID-positive. So we do not know the vaccination status of most who are infected.”
Miscovich urged the state to mobilize a massive testing apparatus across the state in order to improve access to tests and reduce test response times.
“This is an emergency,” Miscovich said. “This is like a tsunami and a hurricane hitting Hawaii at the same time.”
Miscovich also called allowing children to return to in-person learning during the surge “grossly negligent,” saying that the state should be obligated to provide students, particularly those with any health risk factors, options for distance learning, and that teachers should not be forced to work in-person.
“If you are a parent, and your child is below the age of being able to be vaccinated, they should not be in school,” Miscovich said.
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