New Molokai COVID Cases, Vaccine Mandates
By Catherine Cluett Pactol | Editor
While Hawaii saw between 400 and 650 new COVID cases per day last week, Molokai also had a spike in cases. Two new cases were reported by the Dept. of Health last Thursday and seven on Friday for Molokai, according to a DOH Sunday update. Though it was not reported how many of the Molokai cases have been from the Delta variant, the highly contagious variant is now accounting for a majority of cases in a massive COVID-19 spike in cases around the U.S. and the world.
Kualapu’u School had two students test positive for COVID-19, prompting some student quarantines while the school remained open. Kualapu’u School Principal Lydia Trinidad notified school families late Friday of the positive cases. The school, like many others, keeps students in smaller homeroom pods to avoid mass exposure to COVID should someone test positive.
The recent flood of positive cases has triggered a series of vaccine mandates across the state. In a new emergency proclamation last week, Gov. David Ige has required that all state and county employees be vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing, beginning Aug. 16. Testing is at the expense of the employee if a free testing site is not used. Additionally, non-vaccinated employees may be subject to restrictions on official travel.
“The highly contagious Delta variant creates a big risk of infection, especially for members of our community who are not vaccinated,” said Ige. “With spiking COVID-19 case numbers, we have to take measures now to prevent an unmanageable strain on our healthcare system. This new vaccination and testing policy for State and county workers will help protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of Hawaii.”
The emergency proclamation continued the statewide mandatory mask provision for indoor public settings, along with the travel quarantine and Safe Travels program in Hawaii that mandates vaccination proof or pre-travel testing to enter the state. The proclamation allows Boards and Commissions to continue to meet virtually using interactive conference technology, reflecting the intent of the Legislature in Act 220 (2021), while ending the limited suspension of the Uniform Information Practices Act, the state’s open records law. It also allows for the extension of expirations for driver’s licenses, state IDs, and instructional permits that expired during the emergency period.
The State Department of Education (HIDOE) announced last week that all student-athletes, athletic staff and volunteers will need to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 24 to participate in school-sanctioned athletic activities for the 2021-22 school year. Full vaccination is defined as two weeks after a second dose in a two-dose series or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine.
Because of the state’s high positivity rate, the DOE is also delaying the start of the fall athletic season until Sept. 24 to allow for anyone unvaccinated or not yet fully vaccinated to get the shot.
“We opened the new school year this week with in-person learning and our highest priority is to ensure all students can continue to attend school safely,” said interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi. “This decision was not made lightly because we know the important role athletics play in a well-rounded education, but we cannot jeopardize the health and safety of our students and communities. We saw over the weekend the impact that just one potential case can have on sports teams, students and families. The alternative is canceling the season outright, which we don’t want to have to do; so we are implementing this layered plan that prioritizes vaccinations as the best way to protect against and reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.”
Students and staff who get an initial COVID vaccine dose by Aug. 20 can be fully vaccinated by the Sept. 24 deadline. The timeline is based on the Pfizer vaccine schedule, which has emergency use authorization for youth 12 and order with two shots 21 days apart.
The DOE says anyone who is not fully vaccinated by the date schedule will not be allowed to participate in athletics. Students and adults may seek exemption from COVID-19 vaccination requirements for religious or medical reasons, with the appropriate documentation. Medical exemptions must be verified in writing by a licensed physician. If an exemption is granted, the individual is allowed to participate in athletics but will be required to submit to twice-weekly COVID-19 tests.
Queen’s Health Systems, which includes Molokai General Hospital, is requiring all its physicians and staff to be vaccinated, beginning Oct. 1. Queen’s says exemptions will be provided for medical reasons as well as religious beliefs consistent with federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Unvaccinated physicians and staff will be subject to weekly COVID testing, and those who do not get tested or who test positive will not be allowed to work.
Additionally, effective last week, only hospital visitors who are vaccinated against COVID will be allowed to visit patients at any Queen’s hospitals, including Molokai General. Exceptions will be made for newborn and end-of-life visits, with only one visitor allowed per patient. Hospital attributes the policy changes to the “prevalence and the transmissibility of the Delta variant.”
New vaccine requirements for students and employees have prompted concern and frustration for some, saying it’s a violation of individual freedoms to mandate vaccines, as well as raising health concerns — especially among parents of youth — for the COVID-19 vaccines, which have not yet received full FDA approval. A sign-waving to advocate for freedom of choice in vaccination is being held by concerned community members on Wednesday, Aug. 11 in front of the Molokai Public Library.
With the spike in Molokai cases, Na Pu’uwai offered COVID testing at their health fair last Saturday, and Molokai General Hospital held a mass drive-thru testing event on Tuesday.