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Hawaii counts 74 cases of Omicron, but experts say it’s likely already the dominant variant

Aerial view of Honolulu.
Aerial view of Honolulu.(HNN)
Published: Dec. 20, 2021 at 4:27 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 23, 2021 at 4:29 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii Department of Health reports more Omicron variant cases of COVID-19 have been found in Hawaii, and health officials believe that it’s already become the dominant strain in the state.

On Wednesday, the DOH reported 24 additional cases, bringing the total Omicron case count to 74.

Most cases are on Oahu. However, DOH officials say four specimens from Hawaii Island and two from Maui contain a molecular clue indicating they are likely Omicron. Whole genome sequencing will be done on the specimens to determine if they are in fact Omicron.

The latest confirmed cases were found in samples collected from Dec. 7 through Dec. 13. DOH says Omicron is “circulating widely” throughout Hawaii.

“The percentage of cases that are due to this variant doubles every two to three days, so within a week it goes up about eight-fold, and within a couple of weeks it becomes the dominant strain,” said Dr. Ed Desmond, administrator of the state Laboratories Division.

Omicron, or the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529, has quickly spread across the nation, prompting concerns over holiday travel and future restrictions.

“Holiday gatherings, more travel, loosening of restrictions and the introduction of the Omicron variant into our community” are among the factors of soaring case counts, according to Dr. Janet Berreman, Kauai District Health Officer. “So, if you will, that’s kind of a perfect storm.”

Omicron is spreading so quickly that the DOH said contact tracers won’t be able to keep up.

“You do not have to wait to be contacted by one of our contact tracers,” said Brooks Baehr of the DOH Pandemic Communications office. “If you test positive, you should immediately quarantine and you should immediately notify your close contacts to let them know that you’re positive.”

“Booster shots are more important than ever. Please get your booster shot now. People who have received booster shots have much more protection from Omicron than those who have not yet gotten their boosters,” said Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char.

While there are concerns that restrictions could be imposed, it’s probably too late to do anything for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, even if the governor and mayors wanted to do so.

“I don’t think that there’s an appetite amongst the mayors, of the population, the public, to have large restrictions,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green. “A lot of people are really fatigued from COVID and it’s becoming truly a question of personal responsibility.”

“We can all gauge our own level of risk,” said Dr. Berreman. “We all know what we can do to gather safely and to go about our businessss safely, and I hope that everyone will take the precautions that we know work,” including limiting gatherings and wearing a mask when gathering indoors.

Health officials continue to push booster shots of the COVID.

“It appears that having a booster when you’re eligible really dramatically increases -- and rapidly increases -- your antibody levels and providesw additional protection, even against the Omicron variant,” said Dr. Berreman.

“Have a quiet Christmas with your loved ones and get a booster,” said Green. “That’s the best things you can do right now.”

Nationally, Omicron variant cases have become the dominant strain of coronavirus in the U.S., accounting for 73% of new infections last week, according to federal health officials.

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