The Hawaii State Department of Health Laboratories today confirmed the discovery of the first known case of the most infectious omicron variant in Hawaii.
The Oahu resident — an adult under 65 — tested positive for the variant with mild to moderate symptoms and had previously had COVID-19, but was never vaccinated. State health officials said the person had no recent history of travel, indicating community spread.
The news came a day after the United States announced its first known case of the type in an individual from California who had recently traveled to South Africa. Today, an omicron has also been confirmed in a man who attended an anime convention in New York City in late November.
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi tweeted this afternoon: “While this is concerning, it is not necessarily surprising based on our previous briefings with health officials. We will continue to work with experts to learn more about this #variable.”
The World Health Organization has classified omicron as a “variable of concern”.
“This is not a cause for panic, but a cause for concern,” state health director Dr. Elizabeth Schaar said in a news release. It’s a reminder that the epidemic is ongoing. We need to protect ourselves by vaccinating, wearing masks, distancing as much as possible and avoiding large crowds.”
State health officials said that diagnostic laboratory services on Monday identified a test sample with molecular evidence indicating the possible presence of an omicron variant. The lab confirmed today that the omicron variant was positive in an Oahu population sample using accelerated whole-genome sequencing.
Contact tracing is underway, according to the state’s epidemiologist, Dr. Sarah Kimball, who had no further information about how many contacts there were, or where the Oahu resident had visited.
Kimble said the resident is currently in isolation, and is still being monitored, but his symptoms so far include headaches, body aches and coughing.
She said there are still many unknowns about the omicron variant, but today’s news is “certainly cause for caution” and that multi-layered mitigation strategies, including concealment, physical distance, vaccinations, and boosters, remain the same.
When asked, Kimble said there are likely to be more cases in Hawaii that have yet to be identified.
In the past, the Department of Health typically needed a 7- to 10-day turnaround period to get results from genetic sequencing, Kimble said, but it was able to get this within days using a new platform that allowed it to identify today’s omicron variant.
“Our monitoring system is working,” Kimball said in a press release. “This announcement serves as a reminder to be extra vigilant to protect ourselves and our loved ones, especially during the holiday season.”
So far, the omicron variant has been detected in at least 23 countries and at least three other states including California, New York and Minnesota.
Editor’s note: This story is still in development and will be updated as more information becomes available.