Hawaii health officials said on Wednesday that recent data shows that “worrying variants” of COVID-19 now account for the majority of new illnesses in the state. The Department of State Laboratories (SLD) of the Department of Health noted that the first variant of concern was detected on January 21, 2021 and since then 1,023 samples have been reported.
“The variants of concern now represent over 90% of the genomes sequenced by our lab,” said Dr. Edward Desmond, director of SLD, in a press release. “We detected our first variants in January and in just four months they replaced the original COVID-19 lines like COVID that we find most often. ”
The data also reflect an increase 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 dominant variant in the state during March and April, and has been detected 631 times. By the end of April, the B.1.1.7 variant, originally detected in the UK, had become the dominant strain and currently accounts for 61% of the variants circulating on the islands.
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“The B.1.1.7 and B.1.429 variants are more transmissible than the original COVID-19 lineages,” said Dr. Sarah Kemble, acting state epidemiologist. “These variants move more easily from person to person and can therefore spread more quickly in the community and be more difficult to contain. ”
Hawaii Governor David Ige announced on Tuesday that the state would be relinquishing its mandate to mask in outdoor environments on all islands. In a tweet, Ige said state officials “strongly recommend wearing a mask if you are in a large group, even if you are outdoors.” The indoor mask mandate will remain in place “for a little while longer as we vaccinate more people in our communities,” 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 recorded 35,974 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nearly 500 deaths. It averages 50 new cases per day and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has administered nearly 1.5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.