The Latest: 123 New Cases; DOH Finds COVID-19 Variant; Legislature Accepting Remote Testimony

Jan 25, 2021

Updated 1/25/21, 12:51 p.m.

The Department of Health's State Laboratories Division has detected a variant of COVID-19 in the islands. The L452R strain was first detected in Denmark in March 2020, and is now found in more than a dozen U.S. states.

A DOH release says the L452R variant is not shown to spread more quickly or poses a greater threat than other COVID-19 strains. But health officials are concerned because it has been linked to a growing number of cases in California.

"Hawaii is not immune to new strains," said Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char. "The arrival of L452R reminds us we must wear masks, maintain physical distance from people outside our immediate households, and avoid crowds."

Dr. Sarah Kemble, acting state epidemiologist, says the DOH is working with other states and the CDC to learn more about the characteristics of the L452R strain.

The more contagious B.1.1.7 variant, first found in the United Kingdom, and the B.1.351 variant, first found in South Africa, have not been detected in Hawaii.

The department's State Laboratories Division began genome sequencing in June looking for possible COVID-19 variants. It examines 75 specimens a week, and has developed a testing algorithm designed to find variants as soon as possible after they arrive.

State legislature accepting remote testimony

Governor David Ige will give his annual State of the State address to the legislature this morning. One focus is expected to be the budget shortfall the state is facing -- nearly $2 billion.

While the legisltaure will be spending a lot of time on financial matters this sessino, other topics will come under consideration.

If you would like to participate, you can give testimony for legislative hearings -- despite restrictions in place because of the pandemic.

Common Cause Hawaii Executive Director Sandy Ma says you'll first need an account on the state's legislative website capitol.hawaii.gov

"Please open an account, submit your testimony on time -- no later than 24 hours before a committee hearing," she said.

"You could testify online, orally, via Zoom. You don't have to. You could just submit a written testimony."

Common Cause Hawaii can provide more information about how to give testimony and contact your government representatives. You can contact the group at commoncause.org/hawaii

Where we stand

The state Department of Health reported 123 new cases and no new fatalities on Monday.

According to the state's numbers, Oʻahu had 88, Maui 26, Hawaiʻi Island 6, Kauaʻi 1, and Lanai and Molokaʻi had no new cases. 5 residents were diagnosed out of state.

The latest state count brings the Oʻahu total to 20,524, Hawaiʻi County 2,128, Maui 1,626, Kauaʻi 178, Lanai 106, and Molokaʻi 25. The number of out-of-state cases totals 688.

Since the pandemic began, the state has tallied 25,275 cases. The death toll stands at 342.

First Hawaiian Bank executive cautiously optimistic for future

Hawaii's largest bank is staying cautious when it comes to the local economy. First Hawaiian reported its earnings on Friday, which were higher than analysts' estimates.

But the bank also added $20 million to its loan-loss reserves.

Chief Risk Officer Ralph Mesick told analyst call the reason for that move was "some near-term uncertainties we see ahead of the rebound expected in the first half of the year."

Mesick says the bank expects "a slow recovery."

Still, Chairman, President and CEO Bob Harrison sounded a cautiously optimistic note on that analyst call. 

"2021 will be another challenging year as we continue to navigate the panemic and its economic and social impacts," Harrison said. "But we're very optimistic that things will improve, especially in the back half of the year."