HONOLULU (KHON2) — COVID numbers in Hawaii are rising once again.

The seven-day average of new cases rose to 108 on Saturday, Dec. 11 — up from the seven-day average of 96 reported on Dec. 4. The statewide positivity rate also increased to 1.6% for the first time since Nov. 14.

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The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) said delta remains the dominant variant in Hawaii, but more omicron cases are expected to be reported in the upcoming weeks.

Omicron was named a variant of concern toward the end of November, and experts are still trying to learn more. To date, Hawaii has 12 confirmed cases of omicron all found on Oahu, and close contacts of cases from a Thanksgiving gathering and a nightclub are expected to have more omicron cases confirmed.  

According to a spokesperson for the DOH, there are 27 COVID cases linked to the Scarlet Honolulu nightclub. Also, there have been multiple confirmed COVID cases — including one omicron case — and 16 close contacts related to a Thanksgiving gathering. Both clusters are being investigated by the DOH.

“We do anticipate having the next issue of our variant report out next week, which will give us a sense of how that [omicron] is distributed as a proportion of the cases that we’re sequencing right now,” explained Dr. Sarah Kemble, State Epidemiologist.

Experts are also studying the likelihood of the omicron variant outcompeting the delta variant.

“From the data we have from South Africa, cases are doubling at a rate of every one to two days, relative to delta which was doubling every one to five days,” explained Dr. Michael Daignault, an emergency room doctor in Los Angeles. “So, that tells us right away that the rate of transmission is much higher.”

On Friday, Dec. 10, the CDC released data on the first 43 omicron cases reported in the United States. The majority of cases — 34 — were fully vaccinated, 14 had received their booster dose, six of the 43 were previously infected with COVID and one of the omicron cases was hospitalized.

The data is similar in Hawaii — of the 12 confirmed cases, eight were fully vaccinated, one received their booster and none of the cases have been hospitalized.

“I think one of the take-home points here is we are seeing breakthrough with omicron, as has been anticipated from the earlier reports out of South Africa. We believe that vaccine will provide strong protection against severe disease.”

Dr. Sarah Kemble, State Epidemiologist, during a media availability on Friday

However, vaccinated immunity might not be as effective against omicron infections.

Dr. Daignault said early data out of the United Kingdom showed vaccine effectiveness drops to 35% with two Pfizer doses, but effectiveness against severe illness remains high.

“With a booster, the effectiveness of the vaccine — so three doses of Pfizer, for example — would be restored back to 76% protection against all infections,” Dr. Daignault added.

Doctors continue to encourage people to get their booster shots.

Additionally, symptoms of the omicron variant have changed. The CDC study found that of the 43 cases, 40 showed symptoms. Most of the symptoms mirrored the common cold as most reported a cough, fatigue, fever and runny nose. Only three cases reported they lost taste and smell, which was a common symptom in previous coronavirus strains.

Doctors warn it is still too early to tell what omicron will do, but they warn a more infectious virus is not a good thing — even if symptoms are mild.

“I think it’s a slippery slope to hope that we have a more transmissible, less virulent strain becoming prevalent, because, as we saw over the summer, delta was not proven to cause more severe illness than other variants, but because it was so transmissible — so contagious — it just led to just the sheer number of cases,” explained Dr. Daignault.

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“So, a small percentage of a large number of cases requiring hospitalization is still a very large number and whether it’s delta or omicron, which are both very transmissible, a surge of either a number of those cases could potentially overwhelm our hospital system,” he continued.