A more transmissible strain of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been identified in Hawaii.
The state Department of Health’s State Laboratories Division today confirmed the presence of the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first detected in the United Kingdom.
The confirmed specimen is one of four samples previously identified as having a molecular clue consistent with the B.1.1.7 variant, the DOH said in a news release. The other specimens are still being analyzed.
“We have already initiated contact tracing investigations and are monitoring these cases closely,” acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said.
According to the DOH, the variant strain was detected in an Oahu resident with no history of travel. This person initially experienced symptoms in late January. One close contact also tested positive for the COVID-19.
Whole genomic sequencing is being performed on the specimen from the close contact to determine if the B.1.1.7 variant is present.
Kemble said during a press conference this afternoon that that all four specimens being evaluated are from Oahu.
The B.1.1.7 variant is highly transmissible and leads to a more rapid spread than other common COVID-19 strains, according to the DOH.
The State Laboratories Division performs genome sequencing on 300 specimens per month.
“The specimens selected for sequencing represent patients more likely to have variant strains, as well as specimens representing all parts of the state,” said State Laboratories Division Director Dr. Edward Desmond. “The sequencing will indicate the presence of variant strains with any of the mutations of concern.”
“We are concerned about the presence of the B.1.1.7 variant in Hawaii because more contagious strains can lead to an increase in case rates and ultimately require a higher percentage of people to get vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity,” state Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char said.
“We are not helpless against this highly transmissible variant,” Gov. David Ige said. “We can fight it by getting vaccinated and taking everyday actions such as wearing masks, distancing, washing hands and staying home when sick. And please limit your Super Bowl viewing parties to household members. Together, we can stay safe.”