State raises alarms after confirming community spread of Delta variant

Published: Jun. 22, 2021 at 10:00 AM HST|Updated: Jun. 22, 2021 at 11:33 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Department of Health confirmed Tuesday that the highly contagious Delta variant is spreading in the state.

In a news release, health officials said there were have been at least three cases of the variant — SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.617.2 — associated with travel from the mainland.

Two of those cases were detected on Oahu and one on Hawaii Island. Lab data also found the Delta variant in an Oahu resident who had no history of travel.

Dr. Edward Desmond, State Laboratories Division director, called community spread of the Delta mutation “concerning” and noted there’s about a three-week lag between when cases occur and when genomic testing is completed. “We think that it has spread even further,” he said.

Only one of the four individuals with the Delta variant was fully vaccinated, according to the DOH.

Officials added that in the three travel-related cases, all household members and close contacts who were fully vaccinated tested negative.

Health officials said there have been no hospitalizations among those with the variant, but all individuals were symptomatic.

First discovered in India, the Delta variant has now been detected in nearly every state, including in Hawaii. It’s more transmissible and has led to a rise in hospitalizations among unvaccinated Americans.

“The recent study out of Scotland showed increased transmission among younger populations so our keiki in Hawaii are susceptible if they’re under 12,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble.

The new cause for alarm comes as Hawaii moves closer to normalcy.

Waikiki is packed with mainland visitor counts actually surpassing pre-pandemic levels. Masks are no longer required outside so hardly anyone is wearing them.

Oahu is also in Tier 4, sports are back, gatherings outdoors are capped at 25 and the Fourth of July holiday is coming up.

“That’s the scary part, everybody’s just wanting to come out of the woodwork and this holiday coming up is right around the corner,” said Linda Marsh, of Hawaii Kai.

Health officials say vaccines are the best way to prevent another wave of illnesses.

“If we can really hit those targets that we’ve been talking about, get to 70%, completely vaccinated as quickly as possible that’s really what’s gonna do the most to protect our community,” said Kemble.

The governor has suggested he might tighten the rules if COVID counts surge again.

But right now, it’s wait and see.

“I’m kind of non partial to if we go back or, or move forward, I think we just kind of do what we got to do to stay safe,” said Justin Keane, of Honolulu.

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