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With new Omicron variant, local officials want residents to be cautious this holiday season

Hawaiʻi Health Director Dr. Elizabeth "Libby" Char speaks about the surge in COVID-19 cases at a press conference on Dec. 17, 2021.
Office of Gov. David Ige
Hawaiʻi Health Director Dr. Elizabeth "Libby" Char speaks about the surge in COVID-19 cases at a press conference on Dec. 17, 2021.

A surge in new COVID cases over the last week has state health officials asking residents to be cautious this holiday season.

Gov. David Ige and state Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char on Friday urged residents to be cautious this holiday season, and celebrate responsibly — in light of a new surge in COVID cases in the islands.

Over the course of 10 days this month, reported cases have skyrocketed to Friday’s count of 797, and positivity rates have more than doubled. The state reported 840 new cases Monday.

Last week, Ige urged residents to get vaccinated and celebrate responsibly during this holiday season.

"It’s time to reassess your plans, so you can celebrate with your loved ones safely during this holiday season. Now is the time to take extra precautions to protect those who cannot get vaccinated or kupuna who are especially at risk," Ige said.

According to the state Department of Health, a majority of cases in the state are still tied to the Delta variant.

However, on Friday there were 30 confirmed cases of the omicron variant – all those cases were on Oʻahu.

Health Director Char said Omicron is still a concern — despite reports that it presents milder symptoms.

"Omicron appears to be more easily transmitted, and it appears, right now, that it is less virulent. But don’t be fooled into thinking that it won’t affect our hospitals and our families," she said. "Perhaps the numbers in the hospitals may end up being worse than Delta."

"If you think of it like if you had a virus that infected 100 people and 10% ended up in the hospital – that would be 10 people. But if you have something that’s super easy to transmit, and it infects 1,000 people, even though maybe 3% end up in the hospital – that’s still 30 people," she said at a press conference. "If it’s that easily transmitted, just by the sheer numbers, we are going to see people ending up in the hospital. And we’re going to see people getting severely ill from it."

Char advised residents who are feeling slightly ill — such as a “small cold” — to get tested and stay home.

Meanwhile, the health department ceased its operation of isolation and quarantine facilities, in accordance with Ige’s November emergency proclamation.

It allowed residents who are either infected or suspect they’re infected to safely isolate or quarantine away from family. Going forward, counties will be responsible for coordinating and managing such efforts.

On Friday, the Hawaiʻi National Guard Joint Task Force was re-tasked with its mission to assist in the state’s testing, contact tracing and vaccination efforts.

A ceremony marking the drawdown of the task force was scheduled for that day, but was canceled.

Vaccination and testing information can be found at hawaiicovid19.com.

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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