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COVID is a shifty, tireless opponent

While we may be done with COVID-19, it is not done with us.

Just as the State of Hawaii and Maui County announce plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions on social gatherings and business capacities, a new highly transmissible variant named omicron has governments banning flights and imposing strict quarantines on travelers from nations in southern Africa. The delta variant is fueling surges across Europe. American cities like Buffalo have had to reissue mandates this week as hospitals fill to near capacity.

And yet, in this pandemic-weary world, airline travelers are flying in numbers that have not been seen since the pandemic began. More than 2 million a day took to the air in the United States this past week. This pent-up demand is sure to send flyers Maui’s way.

Island business owners negatively impacted by COVID restrictions had to be thrilled to hear Gov. David Ige and Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino say pandemic capacity limits would be lifted for restaurants, bars and gyms starting Dec. 1. After struggling for nearly two years, the entrepreneurs’ prayers were answered.

Now comes omicron, which could be worse than delta, nobody knows for sure yet. Remember the Peanuts story line with Lucy holding the football? Maui restaurant owners must feel like Charlie Brown as they prepare to kick off December with more indoor seating, more tables and, they hope, better chances to turn a profit. Will a sudden surge of delta, omicron or whatever variant comes next yank the ball away just as they have ordered additional supplies and hired new people? It’s enough to give their ulcers an ulcer.

Maui’s COVID cases have steadily declined since peaking in late August. Only five new cases were reported Thursday. Our test positivity rate currently stands at 1.6 percent, under the 2 percent threshold. On the downside, Maui County’s completed vaccination rate remains the lowest in the state at 66 percent.

No matter how weary we are of COVID-19, its asymptomatic transmission and respiratory spread make it a persistent adversary. Dr. Norman Estin, founder and medical director of Doctors on Call Urgent Care Centers on Maui, says when the disease is finally spent, the pandemic is going to leave three types of people behind: “Those who were vaccinated, those who had COVID and those who are dead.”

We wish Maui’s business owners luck. Perhaps by keeping in place measures like the Safe Travels program and indoor mask mandate, Hawaii can avoid major surges. Learning to live with the threat of coronavirus not only means figuring out how to mitigate its threat, but also how to roll with its punches.

We’re in the middle rounds against a shifty, tireless opponent. The best protections are to keep jabbing and to not lower our guards. Get vaccinated. Get a booster. Remain vigilant.

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