Dr. Pang discusses omicron: Stay home “if you’re not perfectly well”
By Wendy Osher
Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang provided some guidance on the latest omicron surge as workplaces deal with shortages, and adjust to updated isolation and quarantine standards.
Dr. Pang said some workplaces are dealing with either short staffing due to quarantine as a result of exposure, or shortages as a result of workers returning while still infectious, and infecting more of the workforce.
Effective Monday, Jan. 3, 2022 all DOH directed isolation and quarantine was shortened to align more closely with recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Below are the guidelines the state adopted:
If COVID-19 positive regardless of vaccination status
- Isolate for at least five days and until symptoms are gone.
- Continue to wear a mask for five days after isolation.
If exposed to COVID-19
- Boosted, or fully vaccinated within past six months (or within past two months if J&J)
- No need to quarantine
- Wear a mask for 10 days
- Get tested on day five
- Neither boosted nor fully vaccinated
- Quarantine for five days
- Wear a mask for five days after quarantine
- Get tested on day five
“We’ve got omicron all over the place,” said Dr. Pang during a Friday press briefing hosted by Mayor Michael Victorino. “In fact, you can hear from previous reports–plenty are sick, transmitting it to other people. So the fallback position is to protect the hospital.”
According to Dr. Pang, the winter months tend to busy anyway at the Maui hospital. Maui Health last reported 19 COVID-19 hospitalizations at the Maui Memorial Medical Center on Friday, with no COVID-19 patients in the ICU or on ventilators.
He said omicron is “qualitatively a little different” than previous variants because itʻs highly transmissible and itʻs more apt to dodge the protection from a vaccine, or previous infection from other strains. According to Dr. Pang, protection can be improved significantly with a booster, but he does not know how long protection with a booster will last.
“The booster really can cut down the hospitalization and all–so in the name of protecting the hospital, try to get a booster. It will kick in very quickly–maybe three days, not like the primary series, which takes six weeks. So, right now in the crisis, we’re trying to pivot to booster,” said Dr. Pang.
“It’s not like the stuff we do doesn’t work, it’s just that we get a new variant frequently. Just like flu–you get a new flu variant every year,” said Dr. Pang, noting that the COVID-19 variants are surfacing more frequently, every couple of months.
“I know everyone’s kind of tired of this, but at least we took care of four variants pretty well. So let’s see if we can do it with this,” he said of the latest surge involving the omicron variant.
Calling it the “variant flavor of the month,” Dr. Pang said that Oʻahu went from 6% omicron to “something like 75% omicron” over a two week period. “When Oʻahu was 72% or 75% omicron, Maui was 20%. This was like three weeks ago. I can guarantee you, we’re probably 80% now.”
In addition to high transmissibility, mild symptoms are also posing a challenge in preventing spread. “With omicron here, you will see all kinds of strange symptoms that you and I might blow off as ‘this can’t be COVID,’ but it is. It’s like more of a head cold thing. There’s some people who present only with a slight loss of hearing. That’s it. No cough, no runny nose, no fever… We’re asking people not to come back to work unless you’re perfectly well,” Dr. Pang advised.
“The problem with this virus is it can shed… before you’re sick, and then certainly after you get better. So that’s why we keep having these strange rules,” said Dr. Pang.
“If you’ve been exposed, stay away from people for about five days. If you’re sick… stay away from people for five days–at least. If you continue to be sick, don’t go out until your sickness gets better,” he advised.