Sunday, Dec. 04, 2022|
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COVID-19 cases increased statewide by nearly 11,000 this week, but it wasn’t due to superspreader events.
Instead, the DOH is now collecting data on COVID-19 reinfections, adding 10,955 new cases that occurred since September 2020 to this week’s total.
Although reinfections are being counted, who is susceptible and how severe their infections might be still remains unknown.
“The data on reinfections underscores what we have been saying — that limited immunity from previous infection only lasts so long,” said State Epidemiologist Sarah Kemble during press conference on Wednesday. “You can’t assume just because you’ve had COVID-19 before that you aren’t going to get it again.”
Reinfections make up nearly 10% of all new confirmed cases statewide, although Kemble noted the number could be higher due to at-home tests, the results of which are not reported to the state.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, reinfections make up about 3% of all cases in Hawaii.
The DOH reports reinfections if they occur at least 90 days after an initial infection. This means rebound infections, like the one experienced by President Biden after taking Paxlovid, would not be counted as a reinfection in the new data.
“Paxlovid is still protecting you against ending up in the hospital or having very severe outcomes of disease,” Kemble noted.
Breakthrough infections, or infections of those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, are not yet distinguished in the state’s data.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have data on vaccination status for our new cases or reinfected cases at this time,” Kemble said. “But if you compare people who have been vaccinated after infection, versus those who were never vaccinated after infection, those who were vaccinated after infection do better, they have less severe disease, are less likely to die, and they do have some protection against reinfection.”
While the DOH has been collecting data related to reinfections since September 2020, only now has the number risen significantly enough that the DOH found it worth adding to the COVID-19 dashboards.
“We have been working on it for some time, but we have been able to put this together and wanted to get this out, as we’re seeing this noticeable change in trends with BA.5 and BA.2 before that,” she said. “I think it is important to know that reinfection is happening. It certainly informs choices about getting vaccinated.”
Although the severity of a reinfection depends on the individual, in most cases, it is less severe than an initial COVID-19 infection.
“It really seems to depend on which specific variant was your first infection and which specific variant was your second infection,” Kemble said. “In general, reinfection tends to be more mild for most combinations, but that’s not always the case. Unfortunately, some people who are reinfected still do end up in the hospital or can die.”
While Kemble noted the likelihood of someone getting a reinfection remains uncertain, she said immunocompromised individuals and those taking medication that suppresses the immune system may be more susceptible.
“There’s still a lot we don’t know about what makes some people more susceptible to reinfection,” she said. “If you’ve been vaccinated, and particularly if you’ve been recently boosted, you’re less likely to be infected.”
A new variant report released by the DOH on Tuesday confirmed 95% of new cases in Hawaii County stem from the BA.5 variant, while the other 5% stem from the BA.4 variant. Bivalent boosters that protect against both variants are now available throughout the Big Island, with locations and availability listed at vaccines.gov.
“You have about 1.6 to 1.8 times better protection compared to getting a regular booster if you’ve got the bivalent booster,” Kemble said, adding that even research from nonbivalent boosters showed they helped to reduce the overall risk of reinfection.
As of Wednesday, 54,892 bivalent boosters have been administered in Hawaii.
There were seven new COVID deaths reported statewide this week, including two in Hawaii County. Both women were above the age of 80 with underlying conditions, one who was hospitalized and another who was not.
For Hilo’s 96720 ZIP code, there have been 74 new COVID cases over the past 14-day period.
“We’re still seeing a lot of human and economic impact from COVID-19, so I would not call the pandemic over,” Kemble said, commenting on Biden’s recent declaration that the pandemic has ended. “By staying current on vaccines, you’re giving your immune system the biggest boost it can have, so that when you are next exposed to this virus or a future variant, you’re going to have the most protection.”
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