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Hawaii health officials testing 3 more specimens for possible omicron variant

The Hawaii Department of Health said today that its Laboratories Division is performing whole genome sequencing on three more COVID-19 specimens that may potentially be the omicron variant.

The specimens had the same molecular clues indicating that they may be the omicron variant, similar to the one detected on Thursday belonging to an Oahu resident with no history of travel. The resident — an adult under the age of 65 — was unvaccinated, but previously infected with the coronavirus more than a year ago.

While the results will not be available until some time next week, health officials are urging the public to exercise caution.

“We can’t yet say these specimens are omicron cases, but we believe omicron is already moving through the community,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble in a news release. “Our only confirmed omicron case involves an individual with no known travel history. That leads us to believe it is a case of community transmission.”

The three specimens, all from Oahu, did not arise as contacts of the confirmed case, according to Kemble during a Maui County press conference this afternoon.

“That suggests that if we do confirm omicron in these additional individuals. it is possible there is more widespread community transmission or that there have been multiple introductions into the state,” she said. “This is something we would have anticipated from a public health standpoint. Based on what we’ve learned from South Africa, the variant is highly transmissible so once introduced into an area it could spread pretty widely.”

Whether omicron will out-compete the predominant delta variant in Hawaii remains yet to be seen, she said.

“There’s still a lot we don’t know about the variant, but it’s not cause for panic,” she said. “We have come a long way in the pandemic and we now have many tools in our toolbox. … We anticipate that vaccines (are) still going to play a very important role in reducing the severity of diseases and protecting severe outcomes like hospitalization and death.”

She urged all eligible residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if they have not done so yet, and for all eligible adults to get their booster shots as well.

At this point, Kemble said there have been no confirmed omicron cases in the neighbor islands.

Health officials continue to remind the public that wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings, and getting vaccinated will keep them safe.

DOH advises anyone with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home and avoid contact with others. Anyone with symptoms should get tested. Anyone who comes into contact with a known positive should also get tested five to seven days after exposure.

Anyone unvaccinated who comes into contact with a known positive should quarantine at home for 10 days even if they test negative.

DOH said additional information will be released when whole genome sequencing on the three specimens is complete.

More information on tests and vaccines is available at hawaiicovid19.com.

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