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The Latest: 101 New Cases; DOH Confirms Highly Transmissible UK Variant Present In State

Casey Harlow / HPR
FILE - Maui Community Correctional Center

Updated 2/5/21, 3:10 p.m.

The state Department of Health's State Laboratories Division has confirmed the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant is present in Hawaii. The variant was originally detected in the United Kingdom, and leads to a more rapid spread than other common COVID-19 strains.

The confirmed specimen is one of four samples previously identified in the state as having a molecular clue consistent with the variant. The other specimens are still being analyzed.

The variant strain was detected in an Oahu resident with no history of travel. The person initially experienced symptoms in late January. One close contact also test positive for the coronavirus. Health officials say whole genomic sequencing is being performed on the specimen collected from the close contact to determine if the variant is present.

"We have already initiated contact tracing investigations and are montiroing these cases closes," said Acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble.

"We are concerned about the presence of the B.1.1.7 variant in Hawaii because more contagious strains can lead to an increase in case rates and ultimately require a higher percentage of people to get vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity," said health director Dr. Elizabeth Char.

"It is more important now than ever that we take preventative measures to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and neighbors from COVID-19."

MCCC inmatest quarantined after positive cases

21 inmates at a Maui jail are in medical isolation and another 75 are in quarantine as they undergo precautionary testing for COVID-19.

Two inmates at the Maui Community Correctional Center tested positive for the coronavirus. Two staff were also placed on quarantine as a precaution due to possible exposure and told to get tested.

The state Public Safety Department says MCCC is working with state and county health officials, and the National Guard to implement mass testing of the facility's more than 300 inmates.

Maui public defender Ben Lowenthal says he's concerned for his clients' safety.

"They have a special risk because our clients can't control how they social distance -- a lot of the safety measures and precautions that are in place, they don't have that degree of control," he said.

"And the concern that we have is that if it spreads, it will spread quickly. And the people that go in and out of hte jail every day, it is a community problem. And that's why we stress time and time again the need to release as many of our clients as possible."

According to the latest data from the state Public Safety Department, an estimated 60% of Hawaii inmates have contracted COVID-19 while behind bars.

CORRECTION: No staff have tested positive. Two staff members have been placed in quarantine for possible exposure to COVID-19. An earlier version of this story mistakenly said two staff members had been placed in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. 

-- HPR's Ku?uwehi Hiraishi

Where we stand

The state Department of Health reported 101 new cases and no new fatalities on Friday.

According to the state's numbers, O?ahu had 63, Maui 24, Hawai?i Island 3, Lanai 1, and Kaua?i and Moloka?i had no new cases. 8 resident was diagnosed out of state.

The latest state count brings the O?ahu total to 21,204, Hawai?i County 2,187, Maui 1,833, Kaua?i 178, Lanai 108, and Moloka?i 25. The number of out-of-state cases totals 751.

Since the pandemic began, the state has tallied 26,286 cases. The death toll stands at 416.

Gender equity bill advances in Honolulu Hale

A bill promoting gender equity in certain sports events on city property moving forward at the Honolulu City Council.

Bill 93 would require the city's parks department to factor in gender equity when reviewing a park permit application for a sporting even -- specifically for professional surf events. It also mandates the department to not give preferential treatment to contests applying for permits.

The Council's parks committee discussed the measure during its Thursday meeting.

Council member Heidi Tsuneyoshi introduced the measure last year after heraing there were limited contest opportunities for local pro women surfers.

"The permitting process for surfing contests is very, very different," she said.

Tsuneyoshi says Bill 93 is timely, because the mayor's Surfing Advisory Committee is being assembled. According to her, the committee will have an equal number of men and women.

Tsuneyoshi says the bill would expand other city efforts to help ensure women athletes have an opportunity to compete.

The full City Council will discuss Bill 93 at its next meeting later this month.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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