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Maui County’s COVID cases could reach 1,000 today

Hospital now up to 36 patients; staff have test positivity rate of 7 percent

Maui County’s COVID-19 positive case count today could reach 1,000 as a result of lag times with laboratories, understaffing and the large number of tests being run, Mayor Michael Victorino said Friday afternoon.

Victorino said during the county’s news conference that he was informed of the number by the state Department of Health and Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang, whose “early count” on Friday for today’s cases has the total reaching 1,000.

On Friday, the department reported 336 new confirmed and probable cases in Maui County, with 322 on Maui and 14 on Molokai. Lanai had no new cases.

But even with the large count expected today, Victorino pointed out that “if you average it out, it’s right back to where we were.” Maui County is averaging 469 new cases a day, according to Department of Health data as of Friday.

“Not to make people feel good or bad. We are not out of the woods yet,” Victorino said.

He encouraged residents to stay home with their immediate family over the long holiday weekend.

Dr. Michael Shea, chief medical director for Maui Health and co-lead for its Emergency Operations team, also echoed Victorino at the news conference in asking people not to gather to help keep the cases down.

“Right now, we are doing alright, we are holding our own,” Shea said of the hospital’s staffing situation and COVID-19 patient count. “(But) we don’t want to get to the place where things are stretched thin.”

Shea said that on Thursday, there were 26 COVID-19 patients at the hospital, but that number ballooned to 36 on Friday, including 19 unvaccinated and 17 vaccinated, according to Maui Health’s website. Three vaccinated and two unvaccinated patients were in the ICU, while one vaccinated patient was on a ventilator.

Shea said the hospital is not seeing the same level of severity of the illness as it has seen previously. But he added that the growth of positive cases in the hospital “is very steep” and cautioned that even if cases in the community appear to be coming down, the hospitalizations often lag. In August, during a spike in cases due to the delta variant, Maui Memorial reached a record count of 40 patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

Shea said he didn’t think Maui County has reached its peak in cases during this latest surge, fueled by the omicron variant.

Because of the vaccination mandate at the hospital, Shea said many staff have not caught the virus and that the positivity rate among staff is around 7 percent, which he called “pretty good.” Maui County as a whole is currently reporting a 22 percent test positivity rate, the highest in the state, according to Department of Health data.

Shea thanked Victorino and officials at the hospital who helped bring on contingency staff this week. The hospital is also awaiting the arrival of FEMA nurses in the coming week.

Maui Health said in a news release Friday that it expects around 12 FEMA nurses.

“So we have reinforcements to help us to continue to staff the hospital and continue to run normal operations,” Shea said.

As the hospital continues to treat COVID-19 patients, Shea said the facility is no longer administering the monoclonal antibody therapy called Regeneron, as it has shown to not really be effective against omicron and thus is not being used across the state. But the hospital does have other therapies, including “oral antiviral treatment,” for those battling COVID-19.

However, this is “much more complicated than the monoclonal antibodies,” as health care providers have to monitor and adjust doses, Shea said.

Given the complexities of the treatment, the hospital needs to analyze who needs the medication the most and which of the medications they can have.

He said the federal government through the state has only distributed the emergency use oral medicines to hospitals.

Shea said the hospital preferred that patients be referred for the treatment by their physicians, but people could sign up as well at mauihealth.org/covidtreatments.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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