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Variant Spreads, Restrictions Lifted

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

After the first case of a COVID-19 variant known as the Delta variant was reported in Hawaii two weeks ago, cases of the variant have now been found in all counties, with a total of 13 cases as of last Friday.

“The rapid spread of the Delta variant is troubling, but not surprising,” said State Laboratories Division Administrator Dr. Edward Desmond. “Cases of this particular strain of COVID-19 have doubled every two weeks in other jurisdictions so we expected it to move quickly after it was first detected on Oahu earlier this month.”

The Delta variant is more transmissible than the original SARS-CoV-2 and preliminary research shows that it results in a higher rate of severe illness than other SARS-CoV-2 variants, according to the Dept. of Health.

As of Friday, nine cases of the Delta variant were detected on Oahu, two on Maui, one on Kauai and one on Hawaii island.

“We believe the nine cases most recently identified represent seven or eight separate introductions into the state,” said Dr. Sarah Kemble, the acting State Epidemiologist. “Unfortunately, we can expect case numbers to grow. People who are not vaccinated face a greater risk than those protected by vaccines.”

Molokai continues to have no new COVID-19 cases since May 26, with a current total of 80 cases since the pandemic began.

Meanwhile, the state announced it will lift restrictions on July 8 for trans-Pacific travelers to enter Hawaii without a pre-travel negative test or quarantine period for those who have been full vaccinated in mainland states. Bars and restaurants are also now permitted to operate at 75 percent capacity.

When Hawaii reaches 70 percent vaccination rates among residents, the governor has said all travel restrictions will be lifted and the Safe Travels program will end. At current vaccination rates, this benchmark is predicted sometime this fall.

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