12 Omicron Variant Cases Confirmed in Hawai‘i, All on O‘ahu
The Hawai‘i Department of Health’s State Laboratories Division has confirmed 12 cases of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529, also known as the Omicron variant, on O‘ahu.
As of Friday evening, there were still no cases on the neighbor islands, but one individual on Maui had returned from an Anime convention on the East Coast–an event which health officials say was associated with Omicron variant cases reported in other states.
“Most of the infected individuals have no known connection with one another. This indicates the Omicron variant is spreading deeper into our communities,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble. “People who have tested positive should isolate themselves. Close contacts and people with symptoms should get tested, regardless of vaccination status,” Kemble added.
Dr. Kemble said the findings are not necessarily surprising. “It’s something that we are anticipating, but it is of course of some concern because of the many unknowns that we still have about the Omicron variant,” she said during a Friday press briefing.
Cases Under Investigation at Honolulu Nightclub
In addition to the 12 confirmed cases, the Department of Health is also investigating four COVID-19 cases among patrons of the Scarlet Honolulu nightclub on Pauahi Street. Samples from two of these individuals exhibit a molecular clue indicating the possible presence of the Omicron variant.
The DOH is advising that all patrons who visited Scarlet Honolulu since Dec. 3 to get tested.
“Scarlet Honolulu has been proactive by requiring all its patrons to be vaccinated,” DOH officials said, noting management at the establishment has been cooperating with the department and case investigators. The nightclub is partnering with Project Vision Hawai‘i to host a COVID-19 booster clinic Saturday, Dec. 11 between 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
8 of 12 Omicron Cases Involve Fully Vaccinated; One Boosted Individual; No Hospitalizations
State health officials say some of the positive cases involve people who traveled to the mainland, but the current case load involves a mix of community spread and travel related cases. The majority of Omicron cases are in younger adults (the largest frequency being in people in their 30s-40s), and many among people who have been fully vaccinated.
“Eight of the 12 we have confirmed have been fully vaccinated and one was boosted as well,” said Dr. Kemble. “We also have some overlap with reinfection,” involving three of the individuals, one who was fully vaccinated.
“We’re definitely seeing people with some level of pre-existing immunity, being infected with this virus. Fortunately right now, among those people, we aren’t seeing severe disease, but this is a concern that we may see an uptick in cases just because of the capacity to transmit even among those who have some level of prior immunity,” she said.
“We are seeing breakthrough with Omicron, as has been anticipated from the earlier reports out of South Africa. While we aren’t (thankfully) seeing hospitalizations, none of the 12 have been hospitalized–It is clear that transmission is possible even for those who have been fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Kemble.
The DOH says the Omicron variant is exhibiting traits indicating it is more transmissible than the Delta variant.
“It is clear that transmission is possible even for those who have been fully vaccinated. We believe that vaccine will provide strong protection against severe disease; but keep in mind that you could still transmit to others if you’re out and about, putting yourself into situations where you might come into contact with other people in public settings–especially if you’re doing that in unmasked settings,” said Dr. Kemble.
The department continues to advise people to wear face masks and avoid large crowds.
“What we don’t know yet is the severity compared to other strains. Right now, fortunately most of the cases in the US… have not been severe. I think only only one hospitalization was reported out of 43 early cases tracked in the US,” said Dr. Kemble. She said that while none of the 12 cases in Hawaiʻi involve hospitalization, it’s important to continue tracking information, “because in some countries like South Africa, we’re hearing reports of increased hospitalizations as well,” she said.
What About the Neighbor Island, Including Maui?
In New York State and New York City have been following cases related to a large Anime convention. The DOH in Hawaiʻi has received notification so far of 14 individuals who were believed to have attended that convention, based on their registration lists.
“We’ve attempted to reach out to all of them. We have not successfully reached all of them. Some are not returning our calls… For those who we have reached, we have confirmed just one–a person who had a positive test, but was diagnosed outside of the state,” said Dr. Kemble. It appears from travel records that the person has since returned to Hawaiʻi, but the DOH has been unable to get into contact with them.
Dr. Kemble said she thinks “it’s just a matter of time,” before cases start popping up on the neighbor islands… One of the attendees at the Anime convention was a Maui resident. We’re still trying to reach that person as well–again just emphasizing that contact tracing has become a real challenge.”
“I think there’s a real sense of fatigue out there in the public that people feel done with it, but unfortunately, the virus is not done with us,” she said.
Information on free testing and vaccines is available at https://hawaiicovid19.com/.