State tests for possibility of UK variant in Hawaii


HONOLULU (KHON2) — Another variant of COVID-19 may be here in Hawaii.

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This one is said to be highly transmissible. The state says in four specimens, they found a molecular clue associated with the U.K. variant.

Officials say testing is being done to verify whether that particular strain is B1.1.7 and if it’s here in Hawaii. Testing is expected to be completed later this week.

Officials say the B1.1.7 strain was spreading through the United Kingdom and looks to be more transmissible.

“It’s not been shown that the vaccines that we currently have out there would be any less effective against B1.1.7,” said Acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble. “So I think that concern more is if you have something that’s more contagious, more easily spread, then that affects how many people you actually need to vaccinate in order to achieve herd immunity.”

If the variant is confirmed to be here in Hawaii, Dr. Kemble says the variant in and of itself would not change the restrictions currently in place.

“What we’ve learned so far about the variance is the way to combat them as what we’ve already been doing,” Dr. Kemble said. “Just doing more of it, and doing it better. So it’s still going to be getting vaccination out. It’s still going to be wearing your mask, and practicing physical distancing.”

We’re told officials proactively collect and analyze specimens from across the state, and say it looks as though they’re picking up various strains when it reaches our islands.

“I think that we are doing 300 a month,” said Dr. Edward Desmond of the Hawaii State Laboratories. “That gives us a good shot at detecting the variants when they arrive. As I mentioned, we’re taking samples from diverse communities and from all the counties.”

The state says nine samples of the L452R variant, first identified in Denmark, have been identified: one was from Maui, one from Kauai, and seven were from Oahu.

“Right now, there isn’t enough evidence to say it’s more transmissible than other strains. So we’re watching that one closely,” said Dr. Kemble.

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