Hawaii’s health officials said Wednesday that recent data shows COVID-19 “variants of concern” now account for a majority of the state’s new illnesses. The Department of Health’s State Laboratories Division (SLD) noted that the first variant of concern was detected on Jan. 21, 2021, and since then there have been 1,023 specimens reported.
“Variants of concern now make up more than 90% of the genomes sequenced by our lab,” Dr. Edward Desmond, SLD director, said in a news release. “We detected our first variants in January and in just four months they have replaced the original COVID-19 lineages as the COVID we find most often.”
The data also reflected a rise in the P.1 variant, which was first detected in Brazil, and “may be more resistant to antibodies from vaccination or previous infection.” Health officials also noted that the B.1.429 variant, originally detected in California, was the dominate variant in the state in March and April, and has been detected 631 times. By late April, the B.1.1.7 variant, originally detected in the U.K., had become the dominate strain and currently accounts for 61% of variants circulating in the islands.
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“The B.1.1.7 and the B.1.429 variants are more transmissible than original COVID-19 lineages,” Dr. Sarah Kemble, acting state epidemiologist, said. “These variants move more easily from person to person and therefore may spread more quickly through the community and be harder to contain.”
On Tuesday, Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced that the state would drop its mask mandate in outdoor settings across all islands. In a tweet, Ige said that state officials “do highly recommend mask wearing if you are in large groups, even if you are outdoors.” The indoor mask mandate will remain in place “for a little longer as we get more people in our communities vaccinated,” he said.
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Ige added that if the state’s vaccination efforts are successful, he expects “to make changes to the Safe Travels program next month.” Hawaii has seen 35,974 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and nearly 500 deaths. It’s averaging 50 new cases per day, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has administered nearly 1.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine.