DOH outlines plans as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves

Posted on Mar 29, 2022 in Capitol Connection, Featured, Main
Dr. Libby Char

Dr. Libby Char

Dr. Sarah Kemble

Dr. Sarah Kemble

What will the next phase of the pandemic look like for the state?  The answer depends on any new variants, but the good news is we know more about responding to COVID-19 than we did two years ago. In a March 7 legislative briefing, health director Dr. Libby Char and state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble outlined DOH’s plans to keep the community safe as restrictions drop.

• Hawai‘i’s cautious approach is still working “Our response will evolve as the pandemic evolves,” said Dr. Char, but thanks to everyone’s help, “we’re doing much better than many other states.” However, she cautioned that some parts of the world were seeing COVID surges and that mask wearing is still a good idea in crowds and for vulnerable populations.

Early testing at the DOH’s state laboratory and other community labs can identify new variants.

Early testing at the DOH’s state laboratory and other community labs can identify new variants.

• Preparing for new variants – The state plans to stay ahead of the curve in protecting against new variants, Dr. Char said. The approach mirrors much of what President Biden outlined in his National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan. DOH’s focus will continue to be on vaccines and boosters as the best tools to prevent hospitalization and death, plus increased access to tests. “People can order a second round of free test kits at covidtests.gov,” she urged. “Our big push is for equity in vaccines, testing and treatment statewide.”
• Wastewater testing planned – Hawai‘i also has the advantage of being able to identify variants such as omicron faster through partnerships between its own state lab and other community labs. In addition, a local wastewater surveillance system is expected to be in place by this summer to alert the state to new variants.
• In-school testing and masking – Dr. Kemble said in-school testing will continue through the school year as a way to keep students in schools and everyone safe. The DOE is keeping the indoor mask requirement but has made outdoor masking on campuses optional.  Contact tracing has moved from universal case investigation to prioritizing specific, at-risk groups and settings or unusual clusters.
• Remember the basics – In answer to the question of how to prepare for what’s next, Dr. Char reminded everyone to “remember the basics. Vaccinations and masks work, stay home when you’re sick, wash your hands and avoid crowded places,” she said.

Read more in the April Capitol Connection newsletter.

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