Omicron Variant in HI, County Restrictions Ease
By Catherine Cluett Pactol
Last week, the Dept. of Health confirmed the presence of the COVID-19 variant known as Omicron in Hawaii. The State Laboratories Division performed whole genome sequencing on the specimen to confirm the variant, which was detected in an Oahu resident with no history of travel, showing a case of community spread. The person had previously been infected with COVID-19 but was not vaccinated. As of Dec. 3, the DOH was awaiting genome sequencing results of three other COVID cases that may also be Omicron variant.
The Omicron variant has been detected in at least 23 countries and at least two other states so far. It was first detected last month in Africa, and though it has been receiving a lot of attention, the Delta variant still remains the main variant circulating in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Though the CDC says Omicron is likely to spread more quickly than the original COVID strain, there are still a lot of unknowns about the new variant.
“We don’t yet know how easily it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, or how well available vaccines and medications work against it,” stated the CDC of Omicron last Sunday.
World health officials continue to monitor and learn more about the variant.
“This isn’t reason for panic, but it is reason for concern,” said Hawaii Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Car, of Omicron in HI. “It’s a reminder the pandemic is ongoing. We need to protect ourselves by getting vaccinated, wearing masks, distancing as best we can and avoiding large crowds.”
The DOH advises anyone with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home and avoid contact with other people. Anyone with symptoms should get tested. Anyone who comes in contact with a known positive should get tested five to seven days after exposure. Unvaccinated people who come in contact with a known positive should quarantine at home for 10 days even if they have tested negative.
Molokai hasn’t had a new COVID case reported since Nov. 18, when DOH showed two positive cases on the island.
Statewide, with an average of 90 COVID cases per day over the last week, restrictions are continuing to ease, with Gov. Ige turning over authority to county mayors last week.
Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino announced on Nov. 30 that as of Dec. 1, restaurants and bars in the county may operate at 100 percent capacity without physical distancing requirements. Patrons can dine indoors with proof of full vaccination, verification of a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours or have a signed letter from a medical provider confirming full recovery from a COVID-19 infection, according to Maui County.
“We are able to relax these restrictions because the people of Maui County have been mindful of the health and safety of others,” Mayor Victorino said. “With our low positivity rate and the ability to conduct outdoor activities in a safe manner, we feel comfortable loosening these restrictions. At the same time, we are aware of the new Omicron variant and are actively monitoring developments. We will continue to act thoughtfully according to the advice of medical experts.”
After Dec. 1, all outdoor gathering restrictions will be lifted in an expansion of Maui County’s “Safer Outdoors” initiative. Indoor commercial events planned for more than 75 participants will still require an exemption, and entities are encouraged to submit plans early to email@example.com.
Statewide, the Safe Travels program for entering Hawaii as well as the indoor mask mandate still continue.