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COVID Spreads to Lanai, State Prepares for Vaccines

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

There are no new recent COVID-19 cases on Molokai, with the island’s total remaining at 19. However, Lanai, which had previously been COVID-free, had 49 confirmed cases last week, 15 of which are students at Lanai High and Elementary School, as of last Friday.

The source of the cases is unclear. Dept. of Health identified a couple of large social gatherings on Lanai that likely contributed to the outbreak. Some are also attributed to household transmission. One case had a history of travel to Oahu, but there is no clear tie to the other cases, according to DOH. Contact tracing and investigation of the cases is being completed, with testing and resources being provided.

A stay at home order for residents and visitors on the island is expected to be approved to take effect this week, at the request of the County of Maui and awaiting the governor’s approval as of Sunday.

The Maui County also requested that Gov. Ige allow changes to Maui County’s Public Health Emergency Rules, without prior state approval.

“This would allow the County to make immediate emergency decisions dealing with public health and safety issues on Maui, Molokai and Lanai,” Mayor Michael Victorino said. “This is important due to the limited medical resources and facilities in our rural communities, such as Molokai and Lanai.”

There have now been nearly 14,500 cases in Hawaii since the pandemic began, and 209 deaths as of last Friday. The state now averages 86 new cases daily, according to the DOH.

Last week, data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority showed between 5,000 and 7,000 people entered the state daily by air, a majority of which were visitors but also includes returning residents, airline crew, military personnel and other sectors.

Per an Oct. 23 Maui County press conference, all visitors to Maui, Molokai and Lanai must wear masks in public. Airport personnel, car rental companies and hotel staff have all been directed to mandate mask wearing by visitors. Signs and placards will be available for download/print by businesses and residents online. Anyone who refuses to wear a mask is in violation of the County’s Public Health Emergency Rules and subject to fines of up to $5,000 and one year
in jail.

Last week the DOH announced they are preparing for a statewide COVID-19 vaccination program that is expected to be available early next year. The vaccine has not yet been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration but state and county officials and private-sector partners have already prepared a preliminary plan to implement a COVID-19 vaccination program in Hawaii, officials said last week.

The vaccination plan, which is based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is intended to reduce COVID‐19‐related illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths.

“Epidemiologists who study immunity say at least 60 to 70 percent of the population need to have immunity to a virus to break the chain of transmission. Vaccinations can help accelerate immunity in our community so we want Hawaii to be fully prepared and ready to implement our vaccination plan as soon as a viable vaccine that is safe and effective becomes available,” said Gov. Ige. “The impact of our vaccination program and its effectiveness in managing the disease will largely depend upon our ability to allocate and administer the vaccine effectively and efficiently. This is as important as the vaccine itself.”

Because limited vaccine supplies will be available initially, the vaccine will be made available first to those who fall within four priority groups, according to the state.

The first group includes high-risk healthcare employees at hospitals, nursing homes or are engaged in home care, and others involved with direct patient care. Also included in the first group are residents with underlying health conditions. The second priority group includes K-12 teachers and school staff as well as those in essential industries. It also includes those with underlying health conditions that put them at moderately higher risk. People in homeless shelters or group homes and those in prisons, jails, detention centers, and similar facilities, and staff who work in these settings as well as all adults age 65 and older also fall within this second priority group.

The third priority group are young adults 18 to 22 years old and children, from newborn to 17 years old. It also includes employees in industries or occupations not in the previous groups that are considered essential but face increased risk of exposure. The fourth group includes all Hawaii residents who did not fall in any of the other priority groups.

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