Hawaii’s COVID cases surge to record high as omicron spreads
HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii set an all-time record for new coronavirus cases on Thursday as the state of about 1.5 million people reported nearly 3,500 new infections.
The daily total of new cases reported by health officials was 3,484, topping the record of 2,205 cases set the day after Christmas. There has been a sharp and steady increase of new cases in Hawaii over the past 14 days. The state was averaging just over 100 new cases a day at the beginning of the month.
A previous record for new daily infections was set in August during the peak of the delta variant surge when the state recorded 1,678 new infections.
The latest surge came about two weeks after the first omicron variant case was confirmed in Hawaii.
Hawaii hospital officials have said they are already nearly full with non-coronavirus patients and worry about staffing shortages affecting their ability to care for a possible surge of new COVID-19 patients.
The University of Hawaii said it would hold most classes online when the semester begins in January.
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said there would be no new restrictions on Oahu over the New Year holiday.
“It’s about making good decisions, so it’s about personal responsibility,” said Blangiardi last week. “Don’t go to someplace if you fear that it’s going to be something that would make you sick. But if you do go and you’re indoors, wear your mask.”
Blangiardi recently allowed bars and large indoor events to resume. There have been clusters of cases at two of Honolulu’s largest nightclubs in recent weeks. Masks are not required while eating or drinking and occupancy limits with distancing rules have been removed.
The state also reported recent clusters at an event in Waikiki and another at a museum music festival.
The statewide average test positivity rate was around 15% Thursday. Oahu, the state’s most populous island, has an average test positivity rate of more than 16%.
Hawaii had more than 700,000 travelers in December, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Hawaii requires travelers to be vaccinated or provide a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours before arrival, or face quarantine.
Top Hawaii health officials said last week that leaders are discussing the possibility of requiring a booster shot to avoid travel quarantine and testing. They are also considering shortening the window allowed for obtaining a negative COVID-19 test before travel.
“The public health recommendation would be you test as close to flying time as possible and you have your immunizations plus your booster shot,” said state health director Dr. Libby Char. “But understand that there are challenges in implementing that.”
The U.S. now requires international travelers to test within 24 hours of their trip, regardless of nationality or vaccination status.