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Hawaii confirms its first case of Omicron variant in resident with no history of travel outside state

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 1:58 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 2, 2021 at 11:23 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Health Department confirmed Hawaii’s first case of the Omicron variant Thursday and officials said the unvaccinated resident has no history of travel outside the state.

That means there could be community spread of the worrisome mutation in the islands.

“It’s going to take a layered strategy to combat this,” said state Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble, in a news conference. “It’s likely there are more cases.”

She urged residents to continue to wear masks, get vaccinated or a booster shot and take other precautions. “To me, the main thing is don’t rely on your vaccination status alone,” she said.

Kemble said the first Omicron case is an Oahu adult under the age of 65 who had previously had COVID. The person is still be monitored, but so far has experienced mild to moderate symptoms and is quarantining at home.

The state Health Department is also trying to reach out to close contacts and determine whether the person with the variant recently attended any large gatherings.

Diagnostic Laboratory Services identified the specimen Monday as having a molecular clue that indicated it might be Omicron. The State Laboratory was able to confirm the suspicion Thursday.

The announcement comes amid growing fears about the Omicron variant, which has been detected in several states. Much remains unknown about the mutation, but scientists are concerned it could be more contagious. They are also studying whether it can thwart vaccines or other therapies.

Omicron is classified by the World Health Organization as a “variant of concern.”

Kemble said the discovery of the variant in Hawaii should be “cause for attention and concern” but not panic. She said existing mitigation measures ― including masking and vaccination ― still work.

“It’s likely there are more cases. This is something that we are watching now,” she said.

Hawaii’s governor and mayors are doing the same at a time when restrictions are being eased statewide. On Wednesday, Oahu started allowing all social gatherings and events to operate at 100% capacity along with restaurants, bars and gyms.

The move is seen is a major step toward economic recovery.

How Omicron could impact that rebound is still uncertain but locally and nationally, government officials have made clear they’re not interested in bringing back strict restrictions.

This story will be updated.

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