Coronavirus cases in Hawaii have skyrocketed in recent weeks, rising from an average of about 40 cases per day in early July to about 700 in late August. The outbreak has put an enormous strain on the state’s hospitals, many of which are now filled to capacity.
Mr Ige said it would take six or seven weeks for Hawaii to bring cases down. In the meantime, he said, tourists should not expect a “typical” vacation in the state, where strict Covid precautions have limited access to restaurants and rental cars.
“It is a risky time to be traveling right now,” the governor said. “Everyone, residents and visitors alike, should reduce travel to essential business activities only.”
The emergency has put Hawaii’s top tourism official in the odd position of discouraging tourism.
“Our community, residents and the visitor industry, are responsible for working together to address this crisis,” John De Fries, president of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said on Monday. “As such, we are strongly advising visitors that now is not the right time to travel, and they should postpone their trips through the end of October.”
The severity of Hawaii’s outbreak is somewhat surprising, considering the state’s high vaccination rates. Almost 87 per cent of Hawaiian adults have had at least one shot of a Covid vaccine – the highest rate in the country.
Experts say the spike is a testament to the contagiousness of the virus’ Delta variant, which now makes up the vast majority of cases in the United States. Studies have shown that the Delta strain can spread even among vaccinated people, although they’re largely protected from its worst symptoms. Those who remain unvaccinated, however, are vulnerable.
“In Hawaii, people who are going to the hospital are unvaccinated people,” Michael Urban, a professor at the school of health sciences at the University of New Haven, told Bloomberg.
But with Hawaii’s hospitals overwhelmed, experts say the outbreak poses risks to everyone in the state – including tourists.
“If things do not change, our health care systems will be crippled and those needing medical care for all types of diseases, injuries and conditions, including our visitors, may find it difficult to get the treatment they need right away,” said Dr Elizabeth Char, director of Hawaii’s Department of Health.
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