Hawaii Department of Health State Laboratories Division today confirmed the first known case of the more contagious omicron variant has been detected in Hawaii.
The Oahu resident — an adult under the age of 65 — tested positive for the variant with mild to moderate symptoms and was previously infected with COVID-19, but was never vaccinated. State health officials said the individual had no recent history of travel, which indicates community spread.
The news came a day after the U.S. announced its first known case of the variant in an individual from California who had recently traveled to South Africa. Today, omicron was also confirmed in a man who attended an anime convention in New York City in late November.
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi this afternoon tweeted: “While it is concerning, it is not necessarily surprising based on our prior briefings with health officials. We will continue to work with the experts to learn more about this #variant.”
The World Health Organization has classified omicron as a “variant of concern.”
“This isn’t reason for panic, but it is reason for concern,” said state Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char, said in a news release. “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.”
State health officials said the Diagnostic Laboratory Services on Monday identified a test specimen with a molecular clue indicating the possibility of the omicron variant. Today the lab confirmed the omicron variant was positive in the Oahu resident’s specimen using expedited whole genome sequencing.
Contact tracing is underway, according to State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble, who had no further information on how many contacts there are, or which places the Oahu resident had visited.
Kemble said the resident is currently in isolation, and still being monitored, but that their symptoms so far include headache, body aches and coughs.
She said there are still many unknowns about the omicron variant, but that today’s news is “definitely cause for caution” and that layered mitigation strategies, including masking, physical distancing, vaccinations, and boosters, remain the same.
When asked, Kemble said there are likely more cases in Hawaii that have yet to be identified.
In the past, DOH typically needed a 7- to 10-day turnaround to get results from genomic sequencing, said Kemble, but was able to obtain this one within days using a new platform which allowed it to identify the omicron variant today.
“Our surveillance system is working,” Kemble said in a news release. “This announcement serves as a reminder to be extremely careful to protect ourselves and our loved ones, especially during the holiday season.”
So far, the omicron variant has been detected in at least 23 countries and at least three other states including California, New York and Minnesota.
Editor’s Note: This story is still developing and will be updated as soon as more information becomes available.