BREAKING: DOH Confirms First Case of Omicron Variant in Hawai‘i
The state Department of Health has confirmed a first case of the Omicron variant strain in a Hawaiʻi resident on the island of Oʻahu.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said the adult individual under the age of 65 was not vaccinated and had been previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 over a year ago. She said the individual had not traveled outside of the state, and the transmission is believed to be community spread. The cases is still under investigation.
The variant was first identified in South Africa and in recent days was identified in the US. This is the third case identified to date in the US–the other cases were in California and Minnesota in fully vaccinated individuals, according to the DOH. Dr. Kemble said she believes this is the first case in the US in an unvaccinated person with prior infection.
The patient experienced mild to moderate symptoms and is currently in isolation at home. Health officials say the initial symptoms in the case were headache, body aches, and coughing.
Initial testing was conducted on Monday, Nov. 29, and the case was confirmed today through sequencing at the State Laboratories Division. The notification came from Diagnostic Laboratory Services of a specimen which showed a molecular clue that it believed might point to Omicron. DOH immediately forwarded the specimen to the State Laboratories Division and used a new sequencing platform that allowed for results within days, and ultimately confirmation that the specimen was positive for the Omicron variant.
There is typically a 7-10 day turnaround on sequencing, and this new platform provided a much quicker turnaround than what the state had been using the past.
This is the only specimen at this point that’s been brought to the attention of the DOH for suspicion of the Omicron variant.
The state DOH is actively testing random samples from all islands to look for any new strains. Health officials say almost 100% of the cases identified in lab reporting in the last couple of weeks in Hawaiʻi were the Delta variant.
“Some of the concerns about this variant are that it could potentially break through vaccine and prior natural infection,” said Dr. Kemble during a media briefing held this afternoon. “There is still a lot to be learned about this variant, and there are a lot of unknowns, but we are watching it closely; and of course identifying our first case in the state is something that we have a lot of attention on.”
The bottom line in terms of public prevention measures are essentially unchanged, according to Dr. Kemble. “While the variant is something that we will definitely want to watch and track, we still anticipate that vaccination is going to be one of the best ways to avoid transmission. It’s still really important to wear your masks, practice mitigation strategies like maintaining distance as much as you can and staying home when you are sick,” she said.
“I would expect Omicron ultimately to show up here. It was just a matter of when, because as we have seen with each new variant, there is such a globalized world now. People travel to and from, and this is a very infectious disease. So it was very likely that we would see spread. The idea is that through layered mitigation we can slow down spread so that we don’t see surges or spikes that could overwhelm our healthcare capacity,” said Dr. Kemble.
Kemble said it’s likely that there are more cases in the state. “Because we don’t have a travel linkage, the implication is that there has been some transmission in the community before this came to our attention. Whether that was a single linkage back to a traveler or several degrees of separation, at this point we do not know that… but it does tell us that this is going to be something that we are going to be watching now in the state,” said Dr. Kemble.
*This is a developing story and this post will be updated with further details as more information becomes available.