by Edwin Quinabo
Charlene Madamba, Kapolei, 62, was infected with COVID-19 late December 2021 during the Omicron variant surge. On Christmas day, her son, an RN at one of Honolulu’s largest hospitals, woke up feeling fatigued, had body aches and a runny nose. He tested positive for COVID-19 and had to call in sick that day.
At Omicron’s peak, hospital staff have been severely shorthanded nationwide with so many employees out with COVID-19. By late December and January 2022, most hospitals nationwide lowered their isolation period for staff infected from previously 10 days to six. Due to Omicron’s milder effects on the body and ongoing staff shortage, by February 2022, some hospitals have adopted a policy that allowed hospital workers infected with COVID-19 but are symptom-free to continue working uninterrupted.
Charlene said her son infected the entire household with COVID-19. “But thank goodness none of us developed severe cases that would require hospitalization. I’m just glad that I decided to get vaccinated because I was one of those who were late to be vaccinated. The outcome could have been different if I hadn’t got vaccinated.”
While Omicron can still be dangerous, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows patients are being hospitalized, landing in the ICU and dying at lower rates than with earlier variants.
The CDC said even if only a small percentage of people with Omicron infection need hospitalization, the large volume of cases could overwhelm the healthcare system which is why it’s important to take steps to protect yourself.
Omicron has sent new cases of COVID-19 exploding to over 700,000 a day in the U.S. on average, at its peak last month. That total obliterated the record set a year ago at Delta’s peak. The number of Americans in the hospital with the virus is running at about 108,000, just short of the peak of 124,000 last January 2021.
Some health care workers have expressed frustration over the “milder effects” of Omicron being emphasized by the media and public health officials, even though it is scientifically accurate. They complain they’re still working just as hard since the start of the pandemic and that COVID-19 still poses a threat especially among the unvaccinated and those with underlying health conditions.
“Our household may have dodged hospitalization, but besides being sick for a week to 10 days, we missed out on New Year’s eve celebrations and a baby shower due to the timing of our infection. It was valued time with family taken away. The attitude towards COVID-19 many have now is ‘If I get Covid, it ain’t so bad.’ But people should realize that there are others still dying from the virus. You never know how your body will take to the virus. It’s still best to be safe,” said Madamba.
Hawaii Department of Health officials reported 203 new cases of covid, bringing the total since the pandemic to 232,505 infections, as of February 16, 2022. New covid-related fatalities in the last 7 days are 41, bringing total fatalities to 1,240, according to the DOH’s data dashboard.
The latest Hawaii COVID-19 vaccine summary says 2,769,017 vaccine doses have been administered through state and federal distribution programs as of Feb. 16, 2022. Health officials say that 75.6% of the state’s population is now fully vaccinated.
33.1% of the state’s population received a booster shot; most in this group are ages 65 to 74.
Vaccination and community outreach
The University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine (UH JABSOM) and EMME INC. teamed up to make two new public service announcements encouraging the Filipino community to get fully vaccinated.
According to the Department of Health, Hawaii’s Filipino community has been the second hardest hit community, only behind non-Hawaiian Pacific Islanders. Filipino and Pacific Islanders account for 41% of all COVID cases in Hawaii and make up roughly 44% of all COVID-related deaths.
UH JABSOM is also working on a study that could help people with severe complications such as difficulty in breathing (typically what leads COVID-19 patients to check into a hospital).
It’s specifically looking at telmisartan, a common blood pressure medicine that counteracts the RAS system. For this project JABSOM is seeking people who’ve recently been infected with COVID-19 to participate in its 21-day clinical trials. Participants will be reimbursed $60 for each visit, four appointments.
Kaiser Permanente in Hawaii awarded grants to Hawaii Public Health Institute and the Filipino Community Center. Close to $250K will support COVID-19 vaccination efforts in Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and non-English speaking communities.
“Oftentimes, members from underserved communities don’t have access to mass vaccination events or other public vaccination locations,” said Greg Christian, Hawaii Market president, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals. “Meeting the community members where they make it easier for everyone to stay protected against COVID-19.”
FilCom CARES, a project of the Filipino Community Center, holds vaccination clinics at the FilCom Center in Waipahu and testing opportunities to Filipino communities in Hawaii. It also provides at-home vaccinations.
Lawrence Pagulayan, Waipahu, supports vaccinations. He’s grateful that his mom was fully vaccinated with a booster at the time she contracted COVID-19 while being exposed to it at her workplace.
He also supports vaccination mandates and encourages people who are “anti-vax to be fully educated with regard to its health benefits.”
Lawrence says he does his part in keeping the virus under control by wearing a mask and following CDC protocols.
The CDC said COVID-19 vaccines remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19 and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging. This includes primary series shots, booster shots and additional doses for those who need them.
Scientists are still learning how effective vaccines are at preventing infections from Omicron. Data shows there are significant cases of breakthrough infections. While getting vaccinated does not prevent getting infected with Omicron or even spreading the virus, the CDC says vaccines help to keep the vaccinated from developing serious illness.
Mrs. Vannie A (complete name withheld) of Waipahu is fully vaccinated and says she takes extra care not to get the virus because she has a 2-year-old son who cannot get vaccinated yet. “I must protect him from the virus because I don’t really know how the virus will affect his health.”
Pfizer and BioNTech filed a request with the US Food and Drug Administration in the first week of February for an emergency use authorization of their vaccine in children 6 months to 5 years old. As of press time, children ages 6 months through 4 years may soon become eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to the CDC.
Children ages 5 through 11 years are already eligible to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
Vannie said, “My biggest concern about the COVID-19 is what will be the effect to the body of those who have underlying conditions. If this virus will be like the common flu, we have to just live with it and just be careful and cautious not to catch it. We just need to accept that this virus is part of our future now.”
Like a vast majority of healthcare workers, Josephine Lamarca, RN believes in the efficacy of vaccinations. “The people who don’t want to get vaccinated should think twice. They can get themselves or their love ones very sick and lose them to COVID.”
She sees the future of COVID-19 to be similar to the flu with most people getting a shot for it annually.
Just four days ago (Feb. 13, 2022), Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The Financial Times that the full-blown pandemic phase of COVID-19 might be nearing an end and that normality may be around the corner.
Despite community outreach and public awareness campaigns on the efficacy of the covid vaccinations, close to a quarter of the US population are against getting vaccinated, have doubts about vaccine safety, efficacy.
Whether knowledge on the vaccines are true or false, the internet is such a powerful communications tool that experts say anyone can find others with the same beliefs and find reinforcement. It’s like an echo chamber effect where alternative views to their own are disregarded.
Judy V. Ilar RN, BSN, RA, said on vaccination mandates, “People have the right to choose. Whether a person chooses to be vaccinated or unvaccinated is a personal decision that ought to be respected by the government.”
She said, “All the people I know that tested positive [for covid] are all vaccinated. People that I know that are unvaccinated have not been infected to this date.”
On testing, Ilar said, “Covid home kits some used were giving false readings. For example, Person A, took a home Covid test in which she tested negative, then 24 hours later she tested positive.”
Ilar wears a mask she says is a specialized mask from Israel SonoviaTech. “It’s a high-tech textile that has been proven to destroy virus, bacteria on contact.”
“Covid 19 virus doesn’t scare me. I am concerned about the politics behind Covid-19…the only way to beat this virus is to stop the vaccination,” said Ilar.
Latest CDC recommendation, local safety guidelines, new resources
*NEW BOOSTER SHOT TIMELINE: The CDC has been recommending that immunocompromised people who got an mRNA vaccine get an additional booster, a fourth shot, at least five months after their third shot.
It’s going to revise these guidelines to encourage a booster at three months instead. This applies to people 18 and older who got the Moderna vaccine and people 12 and older who got the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
*As of press time, the guidelines for Oahu include:
1) there’s no restriction on social gatherings at home, but there are some restrictions for non-commercial events held at a business or event space.
2) 100% capacity is allowed at businesses, but masks must be worn indoors at businesses.
3) confirmation of vaccination or testing is required for all indoor fitness facilities and classes for all indoor and outdoor businesses where food or beverage is served.
4) 100% capacity is allowed for all outdoor events and for indoor events under 1000 attendees; masks must be worn at all events indoors and outdoors (events category includes weddings, funerals, concerts, sporting events, private parties held at businesses or events venues).
On mask wear, Dr. Melinda Ashton, Hawaii Pacific Health chief quality officer told KITV4, “When you’re in a public indoor setting with other people where transmission could be occurring among strangers, that’s when masks still makes sense.”
*NEW RESOURCE: DOH has a new COVID-19 Hotline. Callers can get answers on what to do after being tested positive and who can get a booster shot.
“The hotline provides information about isolation, quarantine, booster shots and more. It is especially useful for people who have tested positive or have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19. It is also useful for businesses where there is more than one COVID case,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble.
*WEBSITE: questions can be sent and answered at website hawaiicovid19.com
*AT THE LEGISLATURE: There is a bill (HB1970/SB2482) that would establish a temporary Office of Wellness and Resilience within the Office of the Governor. It authorizes the Office to address issues and implement solutions to improve wellness and resilience, including issues and solutions identified by the Trauma-Informed Care Task Force. Supporters of the bill say an Office of Wellness and Resilience is more needed than ever, as the COVID-19 pandemic has been directly or indirectly devastating to many of our community members.
Madamba said “It took a while for me to get vaccinated, believe in and follow safety guidelines. I used to think early in the pandemic that everything about COVID-19 was exaggerated. But in my case I think the timing for me to jump on board and take things seriously was a blessing. Because I did eventually get COVID-19; but after being fully vaccinated.
“I’m thankful for the constant public health awareness and actions taken by our government and private health sector. If it weren’t for their repeated calls for safety and guidance, I believe even more people could be dying from COVID-19.”
The latest U.S. numbers (Feb. 17, 2022) from the New York Times and Our World in Data shows 78.1 million infections, 927,000 COVID-related deaths. From Feb. 3-16, 2022, there has been 2,480,171 infections.
by Edwin Quinabo