State Lab Detects More COVID-19 Variants in Hawai‘i
More variants of the coronavirus have been detected in Hawai‘i, according to a report from the state Department of Health on Tuesday.
DOH’s State Laboratories Division (SLD) continues to work in partnership with private sector laboratories to collect and examine specimens of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.
To date, nine samples of the L452R variant have been identified and four specimens that exhibit a molecular clue associated with the UK B1.1.7 have been found. This indicates the B1.1.7 variant may be present in Hawai‘i.
Expedited whole genome sequencing is being performed on the specimens containing the molecular clue to determine whether they are, in fact, the B1.1.7 variant. Sequencing is expected to be completed later this week. The Department of Health will announce results immediately upon completion, according to its release.
The B1.1.7 variant is highly transmissible. It has not previously been detected in Hawai‘i.
Diagnostic Laboratory Services, Inc. provided two specimens to the state with the B1.1.7 molecular clue, and the state lab found two specimens with this clue among the samples it proactively collects.
Of the nine L452R variants identified so far, one was from Maui, one from Kaua‘i, and seven were from O‘ahu. Four individuals carrying the L452R variant had a history of travel to or from the US mainland (three to California, one to Utah), including two returning residents. Investigation is ongoing into one Maui case and four O‘ahu cases that had no history of travel.
Overall, 3.4% of 264 specimens that completed sequencing in the month of January were identified as having the L452R variant. Three of the samples that yielded the L452R variant had been collected in late December, indicating the variant has been present in the state for at least five or six weeks.
The L452R mutation is considered “under investigation” by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has not been proven so far to be associated with increased transmissibility of COVID-19, and it is not associated with vaccine failure or decreased effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines.
State labs and the DOH’s Disease Outbreak Control Division continue to proactively collect specimens from all parts of the state. The state lab began performing sequencing in June 2020 and now performs it on approximately 300 samples per month. More than 900 samples from all of Hawai‘i’s counties have been analyzed.
DOH encourages everyone to continue practicing community mitigation measures. Mask wearing, physical distancing and avoiding large crowds all help slow the spread of COVID-19 variants. It is also important to get a COVID-19 vaccine when eligible under the state’s vaccination program.