Hawaii health officials keep close eye on omicron COVID-19 variant

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Local health officials are watching closely how the omicron COVID variant could impact the Hawaiian islands.

The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) said the state lab is actively tracking the omicron variant. So far, no cases have been detected in the state, but it is keeping a close eye on the new variant of concern.

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“It could have mechanisms, mutations, that allow it to kind of be less vaccine susceptible,” explained Dr. Libby Char, director of the DOH. “So those are obviously very concerning characteristics of it.”

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, Hawaii COVID-19 healthcare liaison, said at this point there is no reason to panic, but precautions should be put in place for travel.

“We have to be very careful about travel from a lot of different regions in the world because some of these countries have only vaccinated 5% or 7% of their people in general. That’s why we have safe travels.”

Lt. Gov Josh Green, Hawaii COVID-19 healthcare liaison

The World Surf League, which has many international athletes, has resumed its contests in Hawaii. The organization said if the new variant becomes an issue, it will continue close collaboration with local officials.

According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, South Africa is not a major market for Hawaii, but the omicron variant is making its way to other parts of the world.

“There was already some spread to Hong Kong,” said Green. “At least two cases were in Hong Kong and that can worry us. But all of this is the reason that number one, we’re getting vaccinated. To that, we have Safe Travels in place so that we’re at least making sure we have extra checks before people travel to America or to Hawaii.”

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Health officials said more information will be released in the coming days on how effective the vaccines are against the omicron variant.

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