New report shows that highly infectious COVID-19 variants are accounting for most cases in Hawaii


HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Hawaii Department of Health’s State Laboratories Division (SLD) released a new report that says COVID-19 variants are accounting for a greater percentage of total COVID-19 cases in Hawaii — and that percentage continues to rise.

There’s also a growing presence of the highly infectious P.1 variant, which health officials say may be more resistant to antibodies from vaccination or previous infection.

“Variants of concern now make up more than 90% of the genomes sequenced by our lab,” said SLD Director Dr. Edward Desmond. “We detected our first variants in January and in just four months they have replaced the original COVID-19 lineages as the COVID we find most often.”

Since the first variant of concern was detected on January 21, 2021, SLD has detected 1,023 specimens of variants of concern.

The B.1.429 variant, first found in California, was the dominant variant in March and early April. Health officials said it has been detected 631 times.

The B.1.1.7 variant, first found in the United Kingdom, became the most dominant strain in late April. It now accounts for at least 61% of variants circulating in the islands and has been detected 304 times.

“The B.1.1.7 and the B.1.429 variants are more transmissible than original COVID-19 lineages,” Acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said in a statement on Wednesday, May 26. “These variants move more easily from person to person and therefore may spread more quickly through the community and be harder to contain.”

The growing presence of the P.1 variant, first detected in Brazil, has been found in 36 specimens in the state, including 22 on Maui and 13 on Oahu.

These variants were likely introduced into the community through travel.

“Even though you tested negative three days before you left, you might still become positive upon arrival or shortly there after and we do see that happen,” Dr. Kemble said. “So if that gets missed in that window after you just arrived, you can still have the opportunity to start spreading in the community.” 

State officials said the UK variant is more of a concern than the B.1.429 variant, but they said the vaccine has proven to work against severe illness or death.

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