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Omicron variant found in Oʻahu resident with no recent travel history, Hawaiʻi health department says

AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy

The Omicron coronavirus variant was confirmed Thursday in an unvaccinated Oʻahu resident with no recent travel history, the Hawaiʻi Department of Health said.

The adult had been infected with COVID-19 a year ago, isn't currently hospitalized and had “mild-to-moderate” symptoms, including headache, body aches and cough, Hawaiʻi Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said.

She wouldn't identify the patient other than to say the person lives on Oʻahu.

On Monday, a local lab identified a specimen with a molecular clue indicating it may be Omicron. The health department then completed whole genome sequencing and Thursday determined the specimen was the Omicron variant.

Kemble said it was only a matter of time before the variant was detected in Hawaiʻi and that there are likely more cases in the state.

“The implication is that there has been some transmission in the community before this came to our attention,” she said. “Whether that was a single linkage back to a traveler or several degrees of separation, at this point, we do not know that.”

“This isn’t reason for panic, but it is reason for concern. It’s a reminder the pandemic is ongoing. We need to protect ourselves by getting vaccinated, wearing masks, distancing as best we can and avoiding large crowds,” said Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char.

Anyone contacted by a case investigator from DOH is asked to please cooperate in an effort to slow the transmission of COVID-19. Anyone with symptoms is asked to get tested and avoid other people. Unvaccinated people who come in close contact with COVID-19 positive individuals are advised to get tested, the health department said.

Multiple cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in other states, including Minnesota and California. The U.S. earlier this week announced its first known case of the variant in a vaccinated California resident who had recently traveled to South Africa.

Omicron is classified by the World Health Organization as a “variant of concern” as scientists work to determine how it may compare with the predominant Delta variant in terms of transmissibility and severity. Scientists also are studying the degree to which existing vaccines and therapies protect against Omicron.

Given the realities of international travel, scientists said it was inevitable that the Omicron variant would be discovered in the U.S., and they believe it may have been spreading in the country before it was detected.

Sophia McCullough is a digital news producer. Contact her at news@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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