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Green visits hospital as variant cases rise on Maui

Maui Memorial to launch walk-in vaccinations next week

Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green converses with Employee Health Manager Chrissy Miller and Maui Health CEO Mike Rembis outside the Wailuku facility Thursday. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

WAILUKU — Lt. Gov. Josh Green said that he is not above TikTok dance videos to get the message out about the importance of vaccines.

“If it meant more immunity, I’ll do it,” he said to a group of Maui Health nurses on Thursday.

The state is at a turning point in boosting access to vaccines, while Hawaii — which is eighth in the nation for percent of total population fully vaccinated — races toward herd immunity. Maui Memorial Medical Center announced Friday that it will be open to walk-ins ages 16 and older beginning Tuesday.

Green toured Maui’s main hospital Thursday to get updates on the vaccination clinic, as well as to hear concerns from nurses and other staff, at the critical juncture in Hawaii’s work to quell the pandemic. The state recently opened its vaccination tier to anyone 16 and older after months of focusing on older residents and other high-risk groups.

Although Green and other health officials are seeing signs of hope for Maui County, which appears to be coming off weekslong COVID-19 surges, the Valley Isle continues to battle the highest prevalence per capita of variant in the state.

Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green talks with Maui Memorial Medical Center staffers outside a COVID-19 unit Thursday morning. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Hawaii had 555 cases tied to variants of concern as of Tuesday, according to the state Department of Health.

Maui cases have included 207 of the B.1.429 California variant, six of the B.1.1.7 variant first found in the U.K. and two of the P.1 variant first found in Brazil.

Oahu, which has about five times the population of Maui, has recorded 251 cases from variants, including 205 California strains (184 B.1.429 and 21 B.1.427 cases), 35 of the B.1.1.7 variant from the U.K, seven of the B.1.351 variant first found in South Africa and four of the P.1 variant from Brazil.

Hawaii County has totaled 33 cases tied to variants, including 21 California strains (19 B.1.429 and two B.1.427 cases) and 12 of the B.1.1.7 variant from the U.K.

Kauai has had six cases, including five of the B.1.429 variant from California and one of the B.1.1.7 variant from the U.K.

While visiting the Maui Health vaccination clinic at Maui Memorial Medical Center Thursday morning, Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green vaccinates Kihei’s Roger Dixon. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Fifty of Hawaii’s variant cases have not been classified by county, including 16 from California variants (14 B.1.429 and two B.1.427 cases), 32 of the B.1.1.7 variant from the U.K., one of the B.1.351 variant from South Africa and one of the P.1 variant from Brazil.

When asked whether Maui’s higher level of variant cases should alter the vaccination rollout or other local prevention measures, Green said to stay the course with vaccinations, mask wearing and social distancing.

“The variants we have are manageable and they’re responding to the vaccine, so I still think we are going to trend downward like everyone else,” he said.

Although he is concerned about variants, some are preferable to others, Green said.

“It’s better to have the California variant than some of the other variants. And what happens is once a variant becomes the predominant variant, the other variants are elbowed out,” he said. “It would be a lot worse had we had, let’s say we had a predominant variant of the South African variant, then we would see a higher mortality rate at the hospital. Or if we saw a big surge of the U.K. variant, then we would have seen more rapid spread among young people before they got their shots.”

“All we can say is, keep getting vaccinated, wear your masks and social distancing,” he added.

Earlier this week, the state’s acting epidemiologist, Dr. Sarah Kemble, said the California variant has “taken over” on Maui, with more than 80 percent of Maui’s cases tied to the B.1.429 strain.

There are three CDC classifications for variants: variants of interest, variants of concern and variants of high consequence. Currently, there are no COVID-19 variants that rise to the level of high consequence.

Variants of concern, the only kind found in Hawaii, have shown evidence of increased transmissibility, more severe disease, significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines and diagnostic detection failures, according to U.S. Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention.

During his hospital visit, Green spoke with nurses about burnout and staffing challenges.

Maui Health Intensive Care Unit nurse Joan Casio said staff is working long hours and filling multiple roles, which are more demanding with COVID-19 protocol.

“We’re having to pick up everyone else’s role because they don’t want to come into a warm (COVID) unit, or they can’t come into a warm unit,” she said. “We just can’t make that the norm. We have to find better workarounds otherwise we will drop like flies.”

Green encouraged staff, empathizing with the multiple steps required just to pass from room to room.

“Every normal activity that we encompass in the job anyway is five degrees more difficult because you have to jump through seven more hoops,” said Maui Health staff nurse Andrew Chapin. “Transporting a patient. Giving a nebulizer. Basic simple stuff that before still can be challenging but now is just to the nth degree.”

Green said that he trusts Hawaii will see a “really serious decrease now in the case counts.”

“We saw it with our kupuna statewide already,” he said. “The case rates dropped a lot after the vaccine; therefore it will work.”

When nurses asked Green how to get more people vaccinated, he said, “They have to hear from us, one by one. We will go door to door if we have to.”

Maui Health said it will launch a walk-in vaccine clinic at its Maui Memorial Medical Center main lobby, where it offers the Pfizer vaccine. All eligible residents 16 and older may walk in without an appointment from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, beginning next week and continuing through May. People with an existing appointment on Tuesdays and Thursdays will still have their appointments honored.

Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for 16- and 17-year-olds. Vaccine recipients younger than 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Maui Health CEO Mike Rembis said the hospital’s vaccination effort has been a highlight of their work to keep residents healthy.

“We’re not just the acute care hospital where they come when they’re in acute crises — we want to make sure the community is healthy and safe,” he said Thursday. “The vaccination clinic is probably the most meaningful thing we’ve done for the whole community at one time.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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