Gov. David Ige looks at requiring vaccines for some Hawaii workers

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The number of daily new coronavirus cases continued in the triple digits for the 12th day in a row Monday, with 163 new confirmed and probable cases reported by the state Department of Health.

Although it came down from the high of 276 reported Sunday, the seven- day average of daily new cases statewide jumped to 185, and the positivity rate to 4.6%, on Monday.

In Honolulu the average positivity rate was higher, at 4.9%, and it was even higher in Hawaii County, at 7%.

The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized also jumped from 74 on Friday to 90 on Monday, with 20 in intensive care and 12 on ventilators.

Hawaii’s vaccination rate inched up over the weekend, with 1,744,704 doses administered, according to DOH, 4,800 more than on Friday, bringing the state’s completed-vaccination rate to 59.8%.

With daily case counts rising due to the delta variant and vaccination rates lagging, the conversation nationwide has turned to whether it is necessary to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for certain workers.

On Monday the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first major federal agency to require that health care workers get COVID-19 vaccines.

New York City on Monday announced it will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for all of its municipal workers, including teachers and police officers by mid-September, or require weekly testing. California said it will require the same from its health care workers and state employees next month.

Gov. David Ige said he was considering, but made no commitments, to such mandates for Hawaii.

Ige told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii livestream show Monday that he was “thinking about what would be the best public health program to implement for our state employees.”

The cost of testing has dropped significantly, Ige said, and fast and accurate antigen tests for COVID-19 are available for less than $10.

“As you know, we’ve had outbreaks in correctional facilities and jails, and we are looking at whether we should mandate vaccinations within those job classifications,” Ige said. “We also are testing more regularly those in those congregate settings because we know that we want to get ahead of the variant and want to make sure we keep those in congregate settings healthy and safe.”

Ige also said the state may have to consider a mandate ahead of full U.S. Food and Drug Admi­nistration approvals of the COVID-19 vaccines because there has been no clear timeline.

The University of Hawaii, meanwhile, has informed unvaccinated students that they will be required to undergo mandatory, weekly COVID-19 testing to be on any of its 10 campuses this fall.

In an update shared with UH faculty, staff and students over the weekend, UH President David Lassner said unvaccinated students should also be aware “that they may be ineligible for some employment opportunities and may be prohibited from participation in certain face-to-face educational activities,” such as clinical work and fieldwork, and may therefore “be prevented from completing educational requirements.”

“Unfortunately, it should be obvious to all that COVID-19 conditions have worsened in Hawaii, across the nation and globally,” Lassner said in the Friday update. “A new variant is exploding, and we have now seen more than a week of triple-digit numbers of new cases daily across the islands. And key COVID-19 metrics have doubled in the wrong direction over the past two weeks.”

Earlier this month UH said it would not enforce the COVID-19 vaccination requirement this fall, as earlier anticipated, because none of the vaccines offered in Hawaii have yet received full approval from the FDA. Also, UH said, surveys found more than 90% of students and employees have already been or plan to be vaccinated.

Lassner said unvaccinated students will not be dis-enrolled from face- to-face or hybrid classes. Vaccinations will, however, be required for students living in on-campus housing, with religious and medical exemptions available.

Additionally, telework will once again be an option for UH employees, said Lassner, who previously announced that all were to return in person Aug. 3. That has now been rescinded, he said, but is at the discretion of supervisors, with the expectation that full, in-person support and services will be available.

Lassner said UH will also begin discussions with its unions about an employee vaccination mandate.

“Getting vaccinated is unquestionably the most important step you can take to protect yourself, your family, your colleagues, your campus and your community,” said Lassner in his letter. “Vaccination is free and readily available across our islands. If you are not already vaccinated, please, please, please do so now.”

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