Hospitals begin to feel pressure with rise in COVID cases, hospitalizations, demand for testing

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The omicron variant counts for nearly all COVID-19 infections in the state of Hawaii.

The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) released its latest variant report on Friday, Jan. 14, which showed omicron made up 97% of all COVID infections in the state, while delta made up approximately 3%. 

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The numbers speak for themselves with how highly contagious omicron is. In the first two weeks of the new year, there have been 47,099 COVID-infections reported by the DOH.

There were 36,909 cases reported in all of August and September 2021, when the state was at the peak of the delta surge.  

Hospitals are starting to feel the pressure with about 350 COVID patients hospitalized, compared to about 470 hospitalized during the delta surge.  

“Yesterday we had 26 positive people in-house. We had a couple of people we were holding in the ER, things were manageable. When I woke up this morning, we had 36 people and 20 people holding in the ER. So, things are starting to increase significantly and quickly,” explained Dr. Michael Shea, Chief Medical Director of Maui Health.

Dr. Shea said 7% of staff are currently out, and some nurses arrived this week. FEMA nurses will also arrive to help and provide support during the week of Jan. 16.

“I really want you to understand our growth in positive cases at the hospital is becoming very steep,” Dr. Shea said during a Maui County press conference on Friday.  “So, even when we do hit our peak, which we haven’t yet — I don’t think — remember the hospital numbers are going to lag a couple weeks behind that. So, when the community starts to see relief, we’re still going to be having increasing numbers.”

He pleaded with Maui County residents to lay low over the upcoming three-day weekend to help protect hospital and healthcare workers.  

“I’m sorry to have to come and ask you again but, humbly, I asked to please help us out,” Dr. Shea said. 

Maui County has the highest positivity rate in the state, and Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said Maui District Health officials and the DOH provided preliminary numbers showing Maui could reach quadruple digits by Saturday, Jan. 15. 

“I’ve been informed by Dr. Lorrin Pang and that due to lag time with the labs, understaffing, difficulty with the large number of tests being run that tomorrow his early count is 1,000 cases,” Mayor Victorino said.  

Hospital officials said they know testing for the coronavirus is in demand and lines can be long and appointments are hard to find, but they are asking people to stop showing up at the emergency department for testing. 

“Please, we’re asking folks not to come to the emergency room,” said Dr. Melinda Ashton, Hawaii Pacific Health Chief Quality Officer. “We’re hearing stories about people just calling for an ambulance for testing, that’s not good either. It overloads the healthcare system, which is already stressed, dealing with all of the regular things, as well as COVID.” 

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