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How Hawaiʻi Mitigated An Oxygen Crisis

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File

Last week, almost 100 COVID-19 patients were admitted to intensive care units in hospitals across the state.

The surge of COVID-19 patients in hospitals means a higher demand for concentrated oxygen.

The state Department of Health previously estimated that Hawaiʻi would run out of oxygen by Labor Day.

Several strategies were able to mitigate the crisis.

Two of the oxygen vendors in Hawaiʻi — Matheson and Airgas — switched out the tanks that were used to transport other gases with oxygen. Matheson emptied their argon tank for oxygen, and Airgas donated their nitrogen tanks.

While Matheson and Airgas previously produced commercial grade oxygen, they changed their focus strictly to medical grade oxygen. Production of all other gases are also temporarily on hold.

In addition to liquid oxygen from manufacturers, hospitals are supplementing the high demand with oxygen generators. Kaiser Permanente Moanalua Medical Center and Pali Momi Medical Center both installed new generators. Three more federally funded oxygen generators will arrive in Hawaiʻi mid-September.

Chief medical and nursing officers worked with engineering professors from the University of Hawaiʻi to plan oxygen conservation strategies.

Hilton Raethel is the CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaiʻi. He says, "We’re working with our hospitals to help them on these oxygen conservation strategies and provide support. That is something that is having an immediate effect or impact in terms of the use of oxygen.

"What this means is that we still provide oxygen as needed. We’re just making sure that we don’t provide more oxygen than what is needed," Raethel explains.

The immediate oxygen crisis has been adverted. According to Raethel, Hawaiʻi should not run out of oxygen even if COVID-19 cases continue to increase at its current rate.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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