The Hawaii Department of Health is already testing local specimens for a new COVID-19 variant, called omicron, which may be better at evading the protections of the vaccines. So far, the variant has not been detected in Hawaii, according to Department of Health Director Dr. Libby Char, who appeared on the Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight Hawaii” livestream today.
“We don’t know a lot about it right now, I think is the bottom line,” said Char. “But we are very much attuned to it and keeping our ears open.”
Today, the World Health Organization named the new variant omicron and classified it as a “variant of concern.” The variant has been detected in South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel. Health officials are particularly concerned that the variant may be behind the latest spike in coronavirus cases in South Africa. Cases tied to the variant appear to be increasing in nearly all of the country’s provinces.
“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” according to the WHO’s announcement. In particular, top health leaders are concerned that the variant could increase the risk of reinfection.
Char said that she was very concerned about the potential of the variant to lead to a new spike in cases in Hawaii at a time that the state is loosening restrictions.
“We are in a good place right now,” said Char. “We saw with the delta variant how quickly that can change.”
Char also said that DOH is working to fix errors in its data on vaccination rates and booster shots.
The state data indicates that 159,054 people have received booster shots, but Char said that this appears to be a significant undercount.
Likewise, the percentage of the state’s population that has initiated the vaccine process, meaning that they have received an initial doses of a vaccine, appears to be an overcount.
Char said vaccine providers may have been erroneously recording booster shots as initial doses of a vaccine, skewing the data. “So we are trying to reconcile those differences,” said Char.
The data currently indicates that 72.5% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated and 85.4% of the population of about 1.4 million people has received at least one dose.
Char said that the data on the percentage of residents who are fully vaccinated is “a more accurate number.”
Char also said that the number of new coronavirus cases reported today, which is 27, is also wrong. She said that there was an interruption in data collection and that the actual number is “a bit higher.” She said the additional cases will be reported in the next couple of days.
Overall, Hawaii’s COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations have remained low for weeks. There were seven COVID-19 patients in intensive care units statewide as of Wednesday, down from a high of about 100 in early July when Hawaii was in the midst of the delta surge.