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Local COVID modeling group projects new variant will not cause hospitalization surge

covid test Virus Outbreak California
Jae C. Hong/AP
Scott Gutierrez puts his swab sample into a tube at a BusTest Express mobile COVID-19 testing site in Paramount, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Hawaiʻi Pandemic Applied Modeling Group, or HiPAM, is projecting that a new subvariant of COVID will not produce a surge in hospitalizations like other strains before it.

A COVID-19 omicron variant hybrid called XE has been detected in Hawaiʻi, the state Department of Health said last week. The hybrid contains genetic material from both BA.1 and BA.2 variants.

Dr. Thomas Lee, an epidemiologist and the co-chair of HiPAM, says there are several reasons to be optimistic that Hawaiʻi will not see another spike in hospitalizations.

"At least in Hawaiʻi, the vast majority of our population has either been vaccinated and/or boosted and also contracted COVID — or contracted COVID and recovered," he said. "While reinfection is possible, the rate of reinfection is not that high and those that do get reinfected really don't suffer in terms of vast numbers to ICUs and hospitalizations."

While XE is considered more transmissible than the dominant BA.2 and the positivity rate is rising slightly in the state, health officials are not calling for the return of COVID restrictions at this time.

"I think a couple of days ago this week, there was actually a day — it was the first day in forever where we had zero ICU cases due to COVID," Lee said.

This interview aired on The Conversation on April 18, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Scott Kim is a news editor at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact him at
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