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No Ka Oi Health

COVID-19 VARIANTS IN MAUI

As Hawaii has been opening to visitors and rebuilding our economy, we are now facing a new challenge with COVID-19 variants. A large percentage of current cases on Maui are one of the variants.

These variants leave many questions and concerns, such as:

• Are the variants more infectious than the original COVID-19 strain?

• Do the variants cause more severe symptoms than the original?

• Will the vaccines be effective against these variants?

So far, these new variants are showing to be 20 to 40 percent more infectious and are the reason for the recent increase in cases. However, they don’t appear to be causing more serious symptoms. The current vaccines do seem to be effective at protecting people from these variants, but this may not be the case in the future. Given this increase in variants, we need to continue to vaccinate people and practice prevention!

VACCINE CLINICS ARE EXPANDING

We are in a race to get vaccines into people’s arms while the vaccine is effective against the variants. Many agencies, including our Maui District Health Office, Maui Health Systems, Minit Medical and other clinics and pharmacies are offering vaccines.

These vaccines went through stringent testing for safety and effectiveness. People in priority groups 1a, 1b and 1c can register for their vaccine. You can get more information about the vaccines and which priority group you are in at www.hawaiicovid19.com/vaccine.

NOW IS THE TIME TO CONTINUE MITIGATION

Now is the time to continue to practice prevention! It is not the time to lighten up as many people have been doing. We need to keep our case loads down long enough for people to get vaccinated and develop herd immunity within our communities. As a reminder, a large percentage of infectious people may not have symptoms. Without practicing prevention, they can spread COVID-19 to others without knowing it. So please follow these prevention practices.

• Wear a mask correctly (covering your mouth, nose and chin) when in public spaces. As the new variants are more infectious, please make sure your mask has at least two layers of fabric and fits well over your face, with no gaps. Masks with a metal nose clip help improve fit without gaps.

• Physically distance. Remain at least 6 feet away from others not in your family, both indoors and outdoors. Give shakas instead of hugs and kisses. Stay social with friends and family with video chats and phone calls.

• Wash or disinfect hands regularly. Wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. If you don’t have access to a washing station, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

• Clean high-use areas. As COVID-19 can remain on surfaces, it’s important to sterilize high-use areas, such as doorknobs, light switches, remotes and cellphones.

• Avoid large gatherings. Keep your gatherings to either just your family or no more than five people. Keep these gatherings outdoors and keep food and drink items individually packaged.

• Stay home when ill. Even if your symptoms are mild, please err on the side of prevention by remaining home and isolated from others if you don’t feel well.

These prevention practices will continue to save our small community from increased case loads that could overwhelm our health system and potentially infect those who are high risk for severe symptoms. Please continue to do your part!

If you manage or work in a business, please help to enforce prevention in your business! Some visitors are here from states where they aren’t required to practice prevention. Residents are also dropping their guard because they feel “the visitors aren’t practicing prevention, why should I?” Our public health rules are to wear a mask in public (even when outside), physically distance and avoid gatherings larger than five people. Please be a part of the solution. If you work in a business, remind your patrons to follow our Maui public health rules.

With the vaccine rolling out more every week, we are getting closer to having a handle on COVID-19. Please don’t stop your prevention efforts now.

For more information about COVID-19 variants, vaccine clinics and education, call Public Health Education at 984-8216 or email DOH.MauiTriage@doh.hawaii.gov.

* Kristin Mills is a public health educator with the state Department of Health’s Maui District Health Office. No Ka Oi Health is published monthly by the state Department of Health.

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