Following a slow march to the goal line, the state Department of Health reported Thursday that 60% of the state’s population is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
That 60% mark was the original goal set by Gov. David Ige in June, and was supposed to be when visitors from the mainland would be able to skip the mandatory 10-day quarantine or pre-travel COVID testing with proof of vaccination. When the state is 70% fully vaccinated, Ige said, essentially all restrictions would be lifted.
Ige announced these benchmarks during a news conference at Washington Place in early June and allowed vaccinated domestic travelers to Hawaii to skip quarantine starting July 8, anticipating that the state would have reached that goal.
However, only about 58% of the state’s population was fully vaccinated at the time, and with the pace of vaccinations having slowed dramatically, what used to take one week took three weeks before finally reaching the 60% mark Thursday.
Two-thirds of the population has received at least one dose; people who have gotten only one dose should become fully vaccinated in ensuing weeks.
DOH noted the milestone on Facebook and said, “Mahalo to everyone who has done their part in keeping our state protected against COVID-19 by getting vaccinated and encouraging others to do the same.”
Ige announced those vaccination goals prior to a post-July 4 surge driven by the highly transmissible delta variant. Case counts and hospitalizations have now been on the rise for the past two weeks.
On Thursday the Health Department reported two new coronavirus-related deaths and 234 additional confirmed and probable infections statewide, bringing the state’s totals to 534 fatalities and 41,303 cases since the start of the pandemic. The number included some cases that were not reported Wednesday due to “an electronic lab reporting system interruption,” according to the Health Department.
Hospitalizations of COVID patients in the state surpassed 100 Tuesday and continued to rise to 111 Wednesday and 114 Thursday, with 23 in intensive care units and 12 on ventilators.
Health officials, meanwhile, are desperately working to get more vaccinated in a race against the delta variant — now the dominant strain in the state — as it spreads in the community, calling it a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Kaiser Permanente and FilCom Cares held a vaccination clinic Thursday at the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu, offering a drawing for prizes along with the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
The Hawaii Disability Rights Center is hosting two inclusive COVID-19 vaccination clinics in partnership with Hawaii Pacific Health on Aug. 7 and 28 at Waikele Center to encourage those in the community, along with their caregivers and families, to get vaccinated.
In addition to being accessible to those who are mobility-impaired, the clinics will have an American Sign Language interpreter and other assistance for those with disabilities.
Among those who still need to be reached in the state are younger residents, ages 18 to 29, with only about 53% of that group having been fully vaccinated, and geographically, the north and west sides of Oahu and rural areas like Haiku, Maui, and Pahoa, Hawaii, where rates are low.
The state in June rolled out a vaccination incentives campaign with drawings for prizes that offered round-trip tickets from various airlines and now includes up to $5,000 in cash for those who have gotten the vaccines. More than 270,000 have registered for the lottery at HiGotVaccinated.com, but organizers are now considering a “milestone” contest targeting those recently vaccinated.
President Joe Biden’s administration Thursday called on states and local governments to give $100 to Americans who get fully vaccinated, using federal funding, saying financial incentives work.
That’s twice as much as the $50 cash card that Lt. Gov. Josh Green proposed during a Spotlight Hawaii conversation Friday for anyone getting a shot or who brings two people to a vaccination clinic.
In addition to incentives, much of the national conversation has also turned to vaccine mandates.
Biden on Thursday also announced that federal workers will have to show proof they have been vaccinated or face mandatory masking, weekly testing and more. The Department of Veterans Affairs, along with California and New York, also has announced vaccine mandates for workers.
Ige has said he has considered mandates, particularly for those in correctional facilities where there have been outbreaks, but has made no firm commitments.
Although tech giants like Google and Facebook have taken the leap toward vaccine mandates, many private companies in Hawaii are hesitant to do so and are waiting, in particular, for the vaccines to receive full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
By county, Honolulu is ahead in the vaccination race, with 62% of the population having completed vaccinations, followed by Kauai County at 60%, Hawaii County at 56% and Maui County at 54%.