Keeping Optimism in the Face of COVID-19’s Latest Surge

Registered Nurse Andrea Herana of Ewa Beach

by Edwin Quinabo

Madalyn Cachola, 61, Pearl City, says she is much more afraid of COVID-19 now with the delta strain even as vaccinations are now available.

“Since the outbreak of Covid hit Hawaii and the mainland, I never knew anyone personally who’ve contracted the virus.

“My cousin, a former California resident who chose to retire in the Philippines, died from Covid there about one month ago. Then just two weeks ago, my aunty, uncle and cousin in Las Vegas died also from Covid. It’s tragic. They lived in the same house and were 83, 81, and 65 years old. It’s believed that they were infected by family members (they live with) that work at casinos where there are only central air conditioning.”

Out of respect for her family, Cachola refrained from saying if they were vaccinated or unvaccinated.

Health experts say because of the highly contagious nature of delta, they are seeing more household infections to where families in some cases have all fallen to Covid, or two or more individuals dying from the same household.

“Absolutely, household infections are the beginning of this pandemic [phase], that is a major driving force in the spread of infections. We see it often within households, parents to children,” said Dr. Jim Versalovic, the chief pathologist and interim chief pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. 

Unlike the original COVID-19, health experts are seeing more spread of Covid onto children because of delta.

Las Vegas, where many Hawaii transplants now live, is a frequent destination for Hawaii residents visiting families there. Because of the rise of COVID-19 infections in Las Vegas, in July this year, the Hawaii State Department of Health Kauai District advised against traveling there. Lt. Gov. Josh Green also warned against travel to that city.

You’re taking a huge risk, and you will very likely catch COVID if you go to Las Vegas,” Green said. “You’re in restaurants or in a casino where most people are not wearing masks. That’s what’s going to happen. You will definitely catch COVID. Then you’ll come back, you’ll be asymptomatic for a few days, you’ll test positive for COVID, and you’ll give it to your whole family,” said Green in July.

Avoid Traveling Now Through October
One month later, Hawaii officials are not just targeting Las Vegas as a place for Hawaii residents to avoid, but they’re recommending all non-emergency travel be postponed.

At a media briefing on Aug. 23, 2021, Governor David Ige called upon Hawaii residents and visitors to delay all non-essential travel through the end of October 2021 due to the recent, accelerated surge in COVID-19 cases. He also urged tourists to stay away temporarily.”Our hospitals are reaching capacity and our ICUs are filling up. Now is not a good time to travel to Hawaii,” said Gov. Ige.

Lt. Gov. Green also appealed to visitors to pause on traveling to Hawaii. “As a physician, I’m seeing the impact on our hospitals. Our hospitals are now full in the state of Hawaii because we’ve had a large surge since July 4,” Green said. “And when I say full, I mean so full with COVID patients that we don’t have any access to transfer other patients, like heart attack patients and stroke patients that I see in the hospital, because we don’t have ICU beds.”

Dr. Elizabeth Chair, director of the Department of Health, attributes this latest surge of COVID cases “to community spread, followed by residents flying to hotspot areas abroad and bringing COVID back into their households and community.”

The Surge
Beginning in July Hawaii has entered their latest coronavirus surge. Last Friday, the Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,035 new cases and nine new deaths. It’s the highest case count and death toll recorded in a single day since the start of the pandemic.

The start of the surge could be traced to when the State lifted its requirement for US travelers to show a negative test before coming to Hawaii. The new requirement is for travelers to just show they’ve been vaccinated in place of a negative test. Right before the change in traveling rules, the State averaged about 50 cases a day. Compare that to the current daily average of more than 700 daily cases.

Hawaii went from being at the bottom 5 states in numbers of COVID-19 infections. Now it is ranked 17th in the nation for average seven-day daily new infections at 49.2 cases per 100,000 (the national average is 43.1 cases per 100,000), according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Response to Surge
On Aug. 10, 2021 Gov. Ige reinstated several of the restrictions on social gathering, including limiting gatherings of 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors.

State and county officials say travel restrictions could possibly be reinstated if the Covid spread gets worse – potentially requiring travelers to get pre-travel Covid clearance again (including those vaccinated) or requiring the 10-day quarantine for visitors and local residents returning from traveling.

The danger of reinstating that level of travel restrictions could harm tourism just as it is making a recovery, some say. And a downturn in tourism means a slowdown to the State’s overall economy.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said he is in favor of the City continuing to crack down on large gatherings and promoting vaccinations. The Mayor announced starting on Sept. 13th, you will need proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours to enter restaurants, bars, gyms and entertainment establishments on Oahu.

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino asked residents to participate in a voluntary 21-day lockdown — voluntarily restricting activities to getting essential needs only like grocery shopping or doctor visits.

Victorino echoes the importance of getting vaccinated. He did warn that if case counts do not drop in the coming weeks, he would impose more restrictions as possibly limiting bar operation hours and reducing or canceling elective medical procedures to increase hospital capacity.

Vaccination, where are we at?
As of Aug. 27, 2021, Hawaii had a statewide vaccination rate of 62.6%, according to data from the Hawaii Department of Health.

Officials are encouraged that Hawaii leads the nation at 87% of adults having already received at least one dose of vaccination. It will take time to see the benefits of this, but the public must follow through and get that second shot in order for community spread to decline, officials say.

Gov. Ige’s original goal in order for all state restrictions to be lifted was to have 70% vaccination. But recently the governor said he might need to reevaluate that vaccination percentage due to the delta variant. Some health experts say in order for herd immunity to kick in, the vaccination percentage needs to be closer to 100% because of the new variant. The original 70% vaccination target for herd immunity was for the original COVID-19.

Grateful for a lesson learned, and a chance to get vaccinated for my family
Cachola is one of those who is waiting to get a second vaccination shot. “After the deaths of my extended family members, I got my first shot. It is late, but it’s better than never.

“My son was really shook up by the deaths. He tried to convince me before the deaths on several occasions to get vaccinated. But truthfully, I was scared. In our last talk on the subject, he laid out the situation convincingly. ‘You will catch Covid, potentially die from it, or if you survive, could have respiratory problems for a long time. But if you get the shots, you might just get a fever at most or feel badly for a day or two.’”

Cachola said she already knew these scenarios her son laid out. “But what really convinced me to get vaccinated this time was his deep concern I saw in his face. I thought, I am so lucky not to have contracted Covid because I waited so long to get vaccinated.

“The deaths of my family in Vegas and the Philippines, I take them as lessons for me to learn from. And I got vaccinated because I want to do it for my family. Just the idea of them suffering if I were to die made me sad. I’m so grateful to have had this second chance of sorts, to finally get vaccinated and be around to enjoy my family. Unfortunately, my other extended family’s lives were cut short,” said Cachola.

Grateful for life, family, health: tomorrow is not promised
Andrea Herana, Ewa Beach, registered nurse, works directly with COVID-19 patients. Her husband is also a frontline worker.

“This pandemic is emotionally draining since it made us deal with so many deaths. It has showed us how precious life is and that tomorrow is not promised. The fact that the patient you were caring for and come back the next day with a new one because the previous patient passed away breaks my heart. It makes me think a lot; and I get scared for my loved ones, friends and every person around me. I have learned to pray more and enjoy life. I have been more grateful to God for waking me up, my family and friends every day. I also learned to appreciate often overlooked things in life such as health.”

Herana said in her reflections she also realized that time and health are far more precious than wealth and material things. For her, during the pandemic she’s worked on having more quality time with loved ones and making personal relationships stronger.

“The upside of this pandemic is strengthening and emphasizing on the family unit. Before the pandemic, everyone had a place to go to and commitments to attend to. Now, all non-essential commitments came to a halt. It made us enjoy the company of everyone within the same household more. It brought deeper relationships by discovering new family routines such as regular family backyard barbeques and having productive conversations between family members,” said Herana.

Grateful to Jesus Christ
Judy V. Ilar, Waipahu, registered nurse/realtor, said her experience during the pandemic had the power to move her in a direction towards spiritual transformation. It has drawn her closer to, as she says, “our lord and savior Jesus Christ, and to love.

“From the beginning of the pandemic, we have decided as a family to bless others, in our private and quiet ways. Giving came in many forms. It may be a gift of time to encourage in the moment, a gift of prayer, a gift of kind words or kind acts and so much more,” said Ilar.

Her advice to others: “During this time of uncertainty, confusion, and fear, I encourage you to fix your eyes and heart on Jesus. He is our source of peace, comfort, joy, and our hope. May our faith intensify and be perfected. As a community, I pray that we can help each other during this tough time. Be the hand, feet, and voice of Jesus to each other.”

Grateful for personal improvements
Levi R. Sy, 29, San Juan, Philippines, says during the pandemic he was forced to get out of his comfort zone in search for opportunities in different businesses for the benefit of his family. Like in the US, the economy has slowed down in the Philippines that often has driven people to seek income opportunities outside of their careers or skill set.

“It made me more independent and made me a critical thinker in times of need.”

Grateful for perspective to think of others besides myself
Like Sy and also from the Philippines, Joshua Buenaventura, 26, Taguig, said “right now we are having difficulty practicing our profession [due to a down economy and quarantines].” But he says he has learned how to manage his time better accomplishing things from home.

He says the time and distance apart had an effect that actually strengthened relationships. The conventional thought is time and distance apart weakens relationships.

In his reflections during the pandemic, Buenaventura said he realized he spent a great deal of time not just thinking about himself and his own needs, but of those around him.

Grateful for broadened perspective
Lloyd Dela Cruz, 21, Pateros, Metro Manila, Philippines, talked about the changes in school brought about by the pandemic. “It is hard to accept that all of the lessons that should be hands-on are now done through simulations and observations. For engineering studies, this is even more difficult.”

In engineering where there is great emphasis on the physical and things tangible, Dela Cruz says the pandemic has broadened his perspective beyond what he can see, but to look at the spiritual and mental aspects of life, a more balanced outlook.

Grateful to not be alone
Estella Soria, 65, Waipahu, lives with her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend. Soria’s husband passed away from a heart attack at 62 just before he had planned to retire.

“For me the death of my husband is still fresh. He died about two years before the pandemic. Sometimes I feel very alone when I think that he is no longer with me. With the pandemic, maybe that feeling is stronger that I miss him because I always relied on him to look after me when I am afraid.

“I am very grateful I have my daughter here and her boyfriend to keep me company. I cannot imagine how it would be if my husband passed on and I did not have my daughter. It makes me think that there are many other older folks who might be alone going through this scary time by themselves,” said Soria.

Soria said she wants people to get vaccinated because she wants families to be able to be with each other. “It’s very hard on old people. I live with my daughter, but older folks who live alone in the early pandemic days didn’t have their family visit them often because their children and grandchildren would be afraid to infect them.”

The latest COVID-19 surge has come as a surprise to Hawaii residents and the rest of the nation because of the high optimism surrounding the rollout of vaccines. Filipinos, like other communities, are trying to find a silver lining amid the uncertainty.

Health experts and government leaders remind the public that there are tools available to beat Covid. The obvious one is to get vaccinated. Lt. Gov. Green said. “Ultimately, vaccinating is what will end this pandemic.”

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