Hawaii 'close' to reaching coronavirus herd immunity, epidemiologist says

Hawaii will not be lifting the mask mandate for fully vaccinated individuals

Hawaii’s state epidemiologist said that while it’s tough to know what herd immunity against coronavirus is without actually achieving it, she believes the state is "getting close." The state so far has administered 1.3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, with about 43% of the population considered "completed." At least 53% have initiated the vaccine process, according to state data. 

The theory of herd immunity has been a hot-button issue as of late. Dr. Anthony Fauci and other top experts have urged people to distance themselves from the idea of it since it’s hard to pinpoint an exact number of cases or vaccinations needed to achieve it. Some have even hypothesized that the U.S. may never see herd immunity against coronavirus. 

"What does herd immunity actually mean? It has to do when we vaccinate enough people that we actually slow the virus down that we aren’t seeing sustained transmission," Dr. Sarah Kemble, Hawaii’s state epidemiologist, told HawaiiNewsNow.com. "It’s one of those frustrating questions when we’ll kind of know it when we get there, but I do believe we are getting close." 

Hawaii is averaging just 71 cases of coronavirus per day, down from its 2021 7-day average high in January of 188 per day. The state is administering over 5,200 tests per day and is seeing an average 1.3% positivity rate. 

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Hawaii Gov. David Ige said on Thursday that the state was evaluating the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) latest guidance for fully vaccinated individuals, such as doing away with masks while indoors, but would not be making any changes yet.  

"I just think it’s really important to know that implementing these mandates are complicated, it’s something that we evaluate and look at all the data that we have and the best guidance from public health officials," Ige said Thursday. "I just wanted to remind everyone that as of today only about 40% of Hawaii’s residents are vaccinated which means the majority of us here in the islands are not vaccinated." 

Ige said one of the challenges to updating the mandate is that you can’t tell who is vaccinated and who is not. 

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"We are always looking at the CDC guidance and making adjustments as we proceed through the process," he said. "The ability to enforce mandates and requirements are just an important part of how we decide to make adjustments. Clearly, at this point in time with the majority of our community not fully vaccinated and we’re not able to determine whether someone is vaccinated or not we will continue to maintain the mask mandate here in the state of Hawaii."