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Maui County won’t tighten COVID-19 restrictions for now

Mayor says people know the rules, will be given time ‘to do what is right’

Maui County does not plan to tighten restrictions amid a spike in cases connected to a new strain of COVID-19, though state and county officials are asking the community to remain diligent.

“We’re not going to make major changes to the restrictions,” Mayor Michael Victorino said Monday afternoon during the county’s news conference. “We know what we need to do, our visitors know what they need to do, our businesses are doing a great job — I go to many of these businesses — I don’t think we need to up the ante at this point.

“We’re going to give them time to do what is right.”

The state Department of Health reported 29 new COVID-19 cases in Hawaii on Monday, including 17 on Oahu, eight on Maui, one on Hawaii Island and three residents diagnosed outside the state. Maui has seen a rise in cases in recent days, at times matching or exceeding daily numbers on the more populous Oahu, which recently loosened restrictions.

While Oahu is averaging 24 daily cases and a test positivity rate of 1 percent over a seven-day rolling period, Maui County has climbed to a 4 percent positivity rate and an average of 19 new cases a day, with Central and West Maui continuing to have higher case counts in the last two weeks, according to DOH data.

Acting state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble, who joined the county’s news conference via Zoom, said that the B.1.429 variant, which is associated with many large outbreaks in California, accounts for about half the strains detected in the Maui community.

“We are detecting an increasing number of the B.1.429 variant,” she said.

As for the ongoing outbreak among inmates at the Maui Community Correctional Center, which had reached 55 cases as of Monday — 39 active, 16 recovered — Kemble confirmed that “we do know now that that cluster is associated with a B.1.429 strain.”

Investigations are ongoing, she said.

“In the general community, making up about half the cases, we’ve also had smaller clusters in the community,” she said. “Does this mean it’s more transmissible? We actually don’t know for sure, but we of course absolutely want to be on top of that by investigating every single case.”

Kemble added that there is some research out of California that suggests this variant may be a more transmissible strain, but not as transmissible as the B.1.1.7 variant from the United Kingdom.

“But because it has been a predominant strain in California, it has been watched closely and additional studies are ongoing,” she said. “This is a good time to remember all of the mitigation efforts that we’ve been talking about. . . . All of those things work still against the B.1.429 strain.”

Epidemiological Specialist Spencer Headley of the Maui District Health Office noted that the community needs to continue implementing the usual safety measures and push past “COVID fatigue.”

“We get it, we’re there, and we understand that 100 percent in terms of needing to live your life,” Headley said. “The only thing I really want to stress today is that we’re on the edge of having the majority of our vulnerable populations vaccinated and we just have to keep it up for another couple months and being really diligent about masking, about staying home when you’re sick and letting your close contacts know if you test positive.”

Only 10.9 percent of the county’s population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the lowest rate in the state, according to DOH data as of Monday. Kauai County continued to lead the state with 19.4 percent of its population receiving at least one dose, followed by Honolulu County at 15.4 percent and Hawaii County at 13.9 percent.

A cumulative 356,863 doses have been administered statewide as of Monday.

DOH is expecting a delivery of 67,280 more doses of the vaccine this week, including 28,080 doses of Pfizer vaccines, 27,300 doses of Moderna vaccines and 11,900 doses of the recently approved Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The deliveries do not include an additional 10,380 doses the federal government is expected to ship directly to CVS/Longs this week as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang said that the Valley Isle is receiving 2,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

“We have the system to roll it out quickly,” Pang said. “It’s a race against the variant now.”

Deputy Managing Director Josiah Nishita said that Maui Memorial Medical Center will ramp up vaccination appointments to 3,000 this week and 4,000 next week.

Maui Health also recently opened a satellite vaccination clinic in Kihei that is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays, according to Maui Health’s website.

While state and county officials are staying steady on current safety measures, one community group that organizers say has grown to about 5,000 members has been advocating for improved protocols, transparency, better enforcement of the county mandate, more sampling for COVID-19 variants and mandatory COVID-19 test for arriving passengers on modified quarantine.

“We’re not doing very good, you know, we’re the only county with a pretty rampant community spread, so we would like to see it get under control,” said Hale Hawaii founder Cara Flores Monday. “We’d like more information because the more we understand, the more we know about what can be done and how concerned we should be.”

Flores also said the group wrote a letter to the mayors and Green about the vaccine rollout, pushing for the distribution to be based on other factors besides population size, like “immediate need of the community” and visitor rates.

Hale Hawaii is organizing a silent demonstration and vigil at Kalama Park in Kihei at 5 p.m. on Saturday to remember the Maui residents who died from COVID-19 and demand “better protection for Hawaii.”

Victorino said that “doing what’s right” as a community and trusting in medical professionals, law enforcement and the vaccine program will help to stop the spread.

“I’ve said this many times and I’m going to say it again, you make the difference,” he said. “When you wear your mask, and you keep yourself safe and healthy, you keep your family healthy and you keep your community healthy.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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