The Hawaii Department of Health today confirmed there are now 12 cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus on Oahu.
“We continue to investigate those cases, but based on what we know so far these are largely among people who didn’t have direct connections to each other,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble during a news conference, “which indicates we are seeing deeper community spread of omicron variant within our state.”
This is not necessarily a surprise, she said, but concerning, and people who have tested positive should isolate themselves, while their close contacts should also get tested, regardless of vaccination status.
Of the 12 cases — all on Oahu — eight were fully vaccinated, including one that had received a booster dose, according to Kemble. Three were unvaccinated, and the vaccination status of one more individual is still pending.
Some had traveled to the U.S. mainland, while others had not. None were hospitalized.
“So it’s a mix of travel and community cases at this point,” she said. “We have some cases that didn’t travel themselves but did have contact with mainland travelers. I think largely we’re seeing it enter from mainland destinations.”
The omicron variant, or B.1.1.529, was first detected on Dec. 2 in the state in Oahu resident with no history of travel. The individual had been previously infected with the coronavirus, but was not vaccinated, and suffered mild to moderate symptoms.
On Monday, DOH’s State Laboratories Division confirmed two additional cases in Oahu residents, both fully vaccinated, with no history of travel out of state, and mild to moderate symptoms.
Today, the lab confirmed the additional cases, and Dr. Kemble said there are likely to be more confirmed in coming weeks.
DOH is also investigating four COVID-19 cases among patrons that visited the nightclub Scarlet Honolulu in Chinatown at about the same time.
DOH said samples from two patrons have a molecular clue indicating the possible presence of the omicron variant, and that it is trying to determine the extent of the spread there.
All patrons who visited Scarlet Honolulu since Dec. 3 are advised to get tested.
DOH credited Scarlet Honolulu for requiring all its patrons to be vaccinated and for cooperating with the department. The nightclub is partnering with Project Vision Hawaii to host a COVID-19 booster clinic from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday.
Contact tracing efforts are still underway for the first few omicron cases in the state, and Hawaii residents who attended the New York City anime convention associated with omicron cases should also get tested.
Kemble said 14 Hawaii residents, including one on Maui, are believed to have attended the convention, based on registration lists.
Of those that did attend, one individual tested positive, and was diagnosed out of state, she said, but DOH has not been able to reach all of them because some are not returning phone calls.
Contact tracers are also trying to reach members of the Christ Embassy Hawai‘i on Oahu. Due to a confirmed omicron case in a person who attended a church event, members who attended events on or after Nov. 23 are urged to get tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible.
DOH is also attempting to reach the leadership of that church.
Dr. Kemble said the omicron variant appears to be more transmissible than the delta variant, thus far, based on trends emerging out of other countries. There may be more transmission among vaccinated individuals, she said, and reinfection may be more common, but the severity of disease caused by omicron compared to other strains remains unknown.
“We are seeing breakthrough with omicron as has been anticipated from the earlier reports out of South Africa,” she said. “While we aren’t thankfully seeing hospitalizations — none of the 12 have been hospitalized – it is clear that transmission is possible even for those who have been fully vaccinated.”
COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, however, appear to slow the spread of the omicron variant, and to be effective in preventing severe illness.
The public is also advised to continue wearing face masks and avoiding large crowds.
“Keep in mind that you could still transmit to others if you’re out and about putting yourself in situations where you might come into contact with other people in public settings, especially if you’re doing that in unmasked settings,” said Kemble. “So it’s important to be careful. Test frequently and wear your mask in public settings.”
Anyone contacted by a DOH case investigator is asked to cooperate in an effort to slow the transmission of COVID-19. Anyone with symptoms should get tested and avoid other people.
More information on free COVID-19 testing and vaccines is available at hawaiicovid19.com.