Molokai Highest Per Capita COVID Rate in State

By Catherine Cluett Pactol | Editor

Last Friday, Molokai logged 12 positive COVID-19 cases in one day – the highest single-day count for the island since the pandemic began – and had 31 cases in the last week alone. The total case count has alarmingly tripled in the last three weeks. The island is up to 154 total cases since the pandemic began, as of Sunday.

Molokai also currently has the most cases proportionate to the island’s population. The Dept. of Health reports cases per 100,000 people by island, and Molokai’s statistic at 803 cases per 100,000 population leads the state, with Hawaii Island coming in second at 799 per 100,000 people, and Oahu at 639.

“We are in the midst of the largest surge we have seen since the COVID-19 pandemic began,” said Janice Kalanihuia, president of Molokai General Hospital.

Kalanihuia said with hospitals at capacity around the state, it may affect the speed at which urgent care patients from Molokai can be treated off island.

“We recognize the situation at Oahu hospitals is dire and we have done all we can to prepare for the possibility that it may become difficult for us to send any patient – COVID positive or not – to Oahu because of the growing number of COVID patients in all the hospitals in Hawaii,” said Kalanihuia. “The lack of capacity at hospitals on Oahu, due solely to the influx of COVID-positive patients who are mostly unvaccinated, may eventually mean you or your family member will have to wait, maybe days, before you can be transferred for a higher level of care. If you are vaccinated, your odds of being sick enough to be hospitalized are less than 10 percent. If you are not vaccinated, the odds are not with you. Please wear your mask, socially distance and wash your hands. Don’t wait, please vaccinate.”

Three Molokai COVID-19 patients have reportedly been flown to Oahu for care, though Kalanihuia would not confirm that, citing patient privacy. No COVID patients are currently being treated at Molokai General.

Officials at Maui Memorial Hospital are reporting an overflow of COVID patients, many of whom are unvaccinated and many in their 20s and 30s.

Most of the cases around the state are due to the highly transmissible Delta variant, though it’s not clear how many of Molokai’s cases are attributed to the new strain.

Case numbers among Molokai schools have also been high, according to statistics reported by the Dept. of Education. Last week, there were six confirmed COVID cases at Molokai High, and one probable – that’s among the highest rates of COVID at a school across the state, proportionate to school enrollment.

Meanwhile, despite concerns and requests from parents to offer distance learning options, the DOE is moving forward with 100 percent in-person, campus-based education at this time. Many parents were left unsatisfied after a Zoom meeting last week with education officials saying in-person learning is still safe.

Health officials continue to urge vaccinations as the most effective means of preventing COVID spread.

“The way to stop this virus, the way to stop people from becoming very sick with this virus, is to get vaccinated,” said Kalanihuia. “This is how the community can help us open beds at hospitals.”

Regardless of vaccination status, it’s critical to wear masks in public, avoid gathering in large groups and follow sanitization recommendations.

The Dept. of Health now recommends an additional vaccine dose for those with compromised immune conditions, in line with recent CDC recommendations. Last week, the DOH issued a medical advisory recommending that moderately to severely immunocompromised individuals should receive a third dose of the Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine after the initial two doses.

Additional doses or booster shots are not recommended for the general public at this time.

“Immunocompromised individuals are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, as they may not build sufficient immunity from the initial two-shot series of mRNA vaccines,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble. “At this time, additional doses are only recommended for this limited segment of the population.”

With the state seeing all-time high rates of COVID, the DOH said more than 500 healthcare professionals from out of state will be deployed to 19 hospitals statewide, including at Molokai General Hospital, thanks for $46 million in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to boost healthcare staffing. Healthcare workers are expected to work in Hawaii for eight weeks each, and are required to show verification that they are fully vaccinated or be tested for COVID-19 on a regular basis.


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