Coronavirus Updates

Omicron Variant at Heart of Hawaiʻi’s Latest COVID ‘Surge,’ Officials Say

Posted December 17, 2021, 1:02 PM HST ·Updated December 17, 1:24 PM

Hawaiʻi officials urged people to take extra precautions as the state grapples with a staggering surge in COVID-19 cases right before the holidays, a time of year families and friends come together in large groups.

Hawaiʻi Gov. David Ige and State Director of Health Elizabeth Char said during a Friday press conference on the state’s recent spike in new cases that the highly transmissible Omicron variant is at the heart of the increase, and large gatherings present an opportune platform for the infection to spread.

“It’s time to reassess your plans,” Ige said. “We’re seeing an alarming increase in the number of our cases.”

On Friday, Hawaiʻi recorded 797 new COVID-19 cases and two new deaths. The state’s daily infection rate is 297 cases a day, with a test positivity rate of 4.2%. By comparison, around one week ago, on Dec. 7, the state was averaging 101 new cases daily and a rest positivity rate of 1.4%

“A big surge,” Ige called it.

The Omicron is a big reason for the rise. The variant, considered more transmissible than other strains, is spreading on O ʻahu. Thirty-one new cases of Omicron were confirmed there Thursday night, Char said, and another 17 cases suspected of being the variant are being evaluated.

“We know that’s going up,” Char said on the Omicron numbers.

Despite the uptick in cases, Ige said that they’re not considering changes to the state’s Safe Travel program, or implementing any restrictions for visitors looking to enter the state at the moment. That could change down the line, he added.

Symptoms for Omicron are similar to that of COVID-19: loss of taste, smell, running a fever, fatigue, etc. While it’s thought to be a milder form of the infection, it isn’t, Char said. The fact that it’s easier to pass person-to-person makes it more dangerous, in a way. The sheer number of people it can spread to easier than other strains means the volume of cases will put a strain on hospital resources, regardless of how severe the symptoms are.

“We’re going to see people end up in the hospital,” Char cautioned.

No Omicron cases have been detected in the neighboring islands. On Friday, Kauaʻi recorded nine new infections.

“I think it’s inevitable at some point we’re going to see the Omicron variant on the neighbor islands,” Char said.

Ige and Char urged the public to follow safety precautions to prevent the virus’s spread, acknowledging that nothing new can be said along those lines. They asked people to wear masks indoors, avoid large gatherings, social distance, and get vaccinated as well as to get booster shots. It’s important to remember those guidelines as families and friends prepare to gather for the Christmas season, they said.

“Now is the time to take extra precaution,” Ige said.

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