More contagious UK variant of coronavirus identified in Hawaii

Updated: Feb. 5, 2021 at 6:05 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A UK coronavirus mutation that spreads more quickly has been found in Hawaii, in a worrisome development that Health Department officials said underscores the need for greater vigilance and for ramping up vaccinations as much as supplies allow.

The so-called UK variant was detected in a COVID-19 specimen from an Oahu resident with no history of travel. A close contact of that person has also tested positive for COVID.

“For the first time, we can confirm that this highly transmissible variant is in the islands,” said Gov. David Ige, in a news conference Friday. “It can swiftly spread and erase all the progress we have made.”

Earlier this week, the state Health Department announced the so-called UK variant of the coronavirus may be present in the islands. Additional testing was needed to confirm the finding.

The UK mutation is of particular concern because it’s significantly more contagious ― as much as 60% more transmissible than other strains.

That could drive up cases quickly if people aren’t taking precautions, officials warned.

Dr. Sarah Kemble, acting state epidemiologist, noted the fact that the UK variant case was in a resident with no history of travel is a concern. It means there is some spread of the mutation in Hawaii.

The strain had previously been found in more than 30 states.

Genome sequencing is underway to determine if the close contact of the first confirmed Hawaii case also has the mutation. The state Health Department is also testing other samples in the islands.

The good news, Kemble said, is “the tools to combat this strain are the same.”

Wearing a mask, regularly washing your hands and keeping a distance still work to prevent the mutation’s spread. The two vaccines available in the US also offer effective protection.

“We are in a race against time” to vaccinate residents, Lt. Gov. Green said.

He added that the presence of the strain in Hawaii means Super Bowl Sunday parties pose an even greater risk of becoming superspreader events.

Officials are asking people not to gather and instead catch the game with household members.

“We do know how to stop this and other variants,” Ige said. “We are not helpless against fighting this.”

This story will be updated.

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