State lab detects COVID-19 variant

The state Department of Health State Laboratories Division has detected a variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

According to a DOH news release, this strain of COVID-19 was first detected in Denmark in March 2020 is now found in more than a dozen U.S. states.


Science has not shown that the variant, L452R, spreads more quickly or poses a greater threat than other COVID-19 strains, the DOH said, but there is concern because it has been linked to a growing number of cases in California including several large outbreaks.

“It is common to find variants to viruses like COVID-19. Some present greater risks than others,” said Dr. Sarah Kemble, acting state epidemiologist. “We are working with our colleagues in other states as well as the (U.S.) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to learn more about the characteristics of this particular variant.”

According to the DOH, the State Laboratories Division began genome sequencing in June looking for possible virus variants. It now examines 75 specimens a week and has developed a testing algorithm designed to find variants as soon as possible after they arrive.

The B.1.1.7 variant first found in the United Kingdom and the B.1.351 variant first found in South Africa both have enhanced transmissibility. Neither of those strains have been detected in Hawaii.


“Hawaii is not immune to new strains,” said state Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char. “The arrival of L452R reminds us we must wear masks, maintain physical distance from people outside our immediate households, and avoid crowds. These safe practices coupled with COVID-19 vaccines will help us stop the spread.”

Regardless of what COVID-19 variants are found in Hawaii, the DOH says residents and visitors can play an important role in slowing transmission of the virus by wearing masks when leaving home, limiting interactions with people outside immediate households, keeping 6-feet of physical distance, washing hands for 20 seconds and getting the COVID-19 vaccine if eligible and vaccine is available, continuing these safety measures even after vaccination.

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