HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A state surveillance program has detected a worrisome COVID mutation in the islands that originated in Brazil. Meanwhile, health officials are also raising new alarms about a variant from California that now appears to be contributing to community spread on Maui.
The P.2 Brazil variant is concerning because it is believed to evade some of the antibodies created by previous COVID infections or even vaccines. However, officials stressed that vaccines appear to provide the greatest protection against contracting any strain of COVID or against developing serious illness.
They also said that other health measures work, including wearing a mask and socially distancing.
The state Department of Health said surveillance testing on Oahu found the presence of the Brazil variant, which contains a mutation similar to one found in another Brazilian mutation and in a variant that originated in South Africa. All of those mutations seem to give the virus an edge over antibodies.
At least two dozen cases of the P.2 variant have been found in the US.
But so far, there has been just one confirmed case of the mutation in Hawaii.
Officials said it was in an Oahu resident who recently traveled to the mainland. The person was asymptomatic, and there have been no cases linked to the individual so far.
The announcement comes as the state sees case counts on the decline, so much so that Oahu was able to ease its COVID restrictions this week.
But authorities urged vigilance, especially given a concerning situation on Maui.
Dr. Sarah Kemble, acting state epidemiologist, said a mutation that originated in California now appears to be contributing to community spread on the island. There have been 28 confirmed cases of the so-called B.1.429 variant on Maui so far this year.
That compares with 17 on Oahu, four on the Big Island and one on Kauai.
“It does appear that strain is circulating in the community on Maui,” she said.
The strain has been associated with a surge in cases in California. It is now the dominant strain there.
Dr. Edward Desmond, State Laboratories division director, said the B.1.429 variant was initially present in California in small numbers but gradually because the most common strain.
“At around the same time, they saw a surge in cases,” he said. “So it can become predominant. And it can be associated with the surge in cases.”
The state also announced that three additional cases of the highly contagious UK COVID mutation were confirmed on Oahu, bringing the total number of cases to six.
State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char said the presence of the COVID mutations in the islands underscore the need for continuing to take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.
“The more the virus is able to infect people, the more opportunity it has to mutate, so it behooves us to prevent infections,” she said, in a news release.
This story has been updated.