Variants make up 98% of cases statewide, state eyes worrisome Delta variant


HONOLULU (KHON2) — A COVID-19 variant spreading across the US mainland could impact case numbers in Hawaii for those who are not vaccinated.

To date, the state health department and state labs division have detected 1,201 COVID-19 variant cases since January; and variant cases now count for nearly all cases in the state.

In a report released on Friday, state lab director Dr. Edward Desmond pointed out the statewide bar graph showing SARS-CoV2 cases in a small blue box with the number 2%; and the five orange and brown boxes that indicate variants of concerns statewide.

“Here’s the Sars-Covid, right here at the top about 2% of the cases, and these are all the others 98% are variants of concern,” Dr. Desmond said. “That’s the situation we’re facing right now. The B.1.1.7 is becoming more dominant, which is what’s happening in the mainland as well, it’s a very transmissible virus.”

The California (B.1.429 and B.1.427) variants continues to dominate cases on Maui and Hawaii island, but more B.1.1.7 cases are being found in those counties.

“Because of the highly transmissible nature of that U.K strain, we kind of expect that it may become gradually more and more predominant in all of our counties,” he added.

He said variants, more so the California variant, were behind Kauai’s jump in cases back in the spring, and despite the state vaccinating more people every day hospitalizations statewide have remained steady at around 30 to 40 for the past few months.

KHON2 asked Dr. Desmond if some of the hospitalizations are variant cases because the variants impact the immune system more severely. “Yes, I think that you may be aware that the B.1.1.7 strain tends to make people more seriously ill, so yes,” he answered.

He said the state is keeping an eye on the Delta variant that originated in India and is spreading across the U.S. mainland.

Health officials said it’s more contagious than other variants and less responsive to antibodies.

“We will let people know if and when that arrives here,” Dr. Desmond said. “We expect it to. It’s in California so it’ll come here as well.”

KHON2 asked how that impact Hawaii when 46% of the population remains not vaccinated.

“It’s hard to predict,” he explained. “But when that strain was introduced into the United Kingdom, there was a little bit of a surge in cases and increase in the number of cases. Dr. Anthony Fauci said that we must not let that strain become predominant here in the U.S. I think we all know how we can prevent that from becoming predominant here. That is if we get vaccinated because the vaccine, as I’ve mentioned, is effective against all of these strains. There may be slight slightly reduced effectiveness but it’ll protect you from getting seriously ill or hospitalized.”

He said there have been a few breakthrough variant cases, but the more people get vaccinated, the less likely the virus will mutate.

“It just makes me wonder if we hadn’t had these variants of concern, would we really have gotten rid of this disease,” he said. “You know, if all we had is these less transmissible strains that we had before, maybe we would have this thing knocked out by now. But, the sad truth is, we are importing the variants of concern, and they take over. Now we have to continue our efforts toward getting everybody vaccinate. That’s the way out of this.”

KHON2 asked what he meant by importing the variants.

“What we’re hoping is that as more and more of the world’s population become vaccinated,” he explained. “There’ll be less and less chance of generating new variants. The less infection there is, the less opportunity there is to generate new variants.”

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