Friday, Aug. 19, 2022|
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Eight more people on the Big Island have died from COVID-19, the state Department of Health reported Wednesday.
That is the highest number for the county since October 2021 and a significant increase from the one death reported the week of July 25. No deaths were reported the week of July 18.
The number of deaths is considered a “lagging indicator,” meaning most deaths did not occur that week, but were instead reported to the DOH that week.
The DOH only reports a COVID-19 death when the department is notified and receives a death certificate and cause of death from an attending physician, hospital or medical examiner.
“Until we get that death certificate, we don’t know if someone has died or how they died,” said DOH spokesperson Brooks Baehr.
He said this process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Of the 23 deaths reported statewide last week, one had occurred back in February.
Of the 21 new statewide deaths reported this week, 15 occurred in July, three occurred in June, and two occurred in May, with one other having happened prior to May 15.
For the Big Island, three of the eight deaths reported this week occurred in the 60-69 age group, one occurred in the 70-79 age group, and four were over the age of 80, all of which were listed by the DOH as having a preexisting condition.
Over 90% of the 1,592 total deaths across the state since the onset of the pandemic have been among those over the age of 50.
“Sadly, we do continue to see deaths from COVID-19, and I think it reflects the very high burden of infection that is continuing to pass through our communities,” said State Epidemiologist Sarah Kemble during a livestream on July 29. “Even though many people have mild to moderate illness, we still, especially in our kupuna, see more severe cases and even death.”
Baehr also confirmed the DOH only counts the fatality as a COVID-19 related death if the virus played a significant role.
“If we see that COVID played a role in that person’s death, we count it as a COVID-related death. If the person died from something that is clearly not COVID, that’s not a COVID-related death,” he said, dismissing rumors that causes of deaths such as blunt-force trauma and gunshot wounds would be included if the individual tested positive for COVID-19.
“Some people think we want to inflate these numbers,” he said. “To the contrary, we are not looking to inflate numbers, but we are accurately trying to count the deaths that are reported to us as COVID-related. In other words, COVID was a contributing factor to the death.”
As reported deaths climb, the new BA.5 omicron variant has now become the dominant strain in both the state and Hawaii County.
A variant report released by the DOH on Wednesday shows BA.5 accounts for 75% of cases circulating in Hawaii County and 68% of those circulating throughout the state.
“We know that BA.5 is now the dominant strain in the state. It is more transmissible than other variants, and we know that it does a better job of evading vaccines and partial immunity from prior infection,” Baehr said. “We do see that the vaccines still do an effective job at preventing severe illness and death, and that’s why we want people to go get vaccinated.”
The variant report also shows the presence of BA.4.6 in Hawaii County at 4%, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now classified as a new “variant of concern.” Variants of concern are those that display greater transmissibility, reduced effectiveness of treatment, increased severity, or decreased neutralization by antibodies.
Case numbers are expected to increase in the coming weeks due to students returning to campus with an optional mask policy in place, but home tests continue to hinder accurate reporting about the total number of cases.
“What we see in terms of case counts reported to us is only part of the whole picture,” said Kemble, who offered one positive outlook on any case increases. “We’ve seen during the most recent surge that even though cases did go sky high, we saw less of the impacts that we saw during delta, which were really quite dire.”
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