Omicron COVID-19 variant detected in Hawaii
The omicron COVID-19 variant has been detected in Hawaii, according to the state health department.
"This isn’t reason for panic, but it is reason for concern. 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," Dr. Elizabeth Char, FACEP and health director, said in a news release.
A sample taken from an infected person was tested in a lab on Monday, according to the state health department. Scientists used a process called expedited whole genome sequencing, to determine the person had contracted the omicron COVID-19 variant.
"This is a case of community spread. The individual has no history of travel," according to the health department.
FILE - A medical worker extracts a specimen from a vial with a nasal swab COVID-19 test.
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The person who tested positive for the omicron variant is a resident in O‘ahu and has experienced moderate symptoms, the news release continued. The individual has contracted COVID-19 once before and was never vaccinated.
"Throughout the pandemic, DOH’s state lab has been a leader in conducting COVID-19 genomic sequencing, which is how the Omicron variant was identified. Our surveillance system is working. This announcement serves as a reminder to be extremely careful to protect ourselves and our loved ones, especially during the holiday season," said Dr. Sarah Kemble, the health department’s epidemiologist.
The U.S. recorded its first known omicron infection on Wednesday, in a fully vaccinated person who had returned to California from South Africa, where the variant was first identified just over a week ago.
"We knew it was just a matter of time before the first case of omicron would be detected in the United States," Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a White House news conference on Wednesday.
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A second U.S. case was confirmed Thursday in Minnesota, involving a vaccinated man who had attended an anime convention in New York City just before Thanksgiving. Minnesota health officials said he had no history of international travel.
Also on Thursday, health officials confirmed a case of the omicron variant in Colorado and five cases in New York.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced that all travelers to the U.S. must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within one day of boarding their flights, regardless of nationality or vaccination status.
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The tightening of testing for those entering the country will begin next week and is down from the current three days for those who have been vaccinated.
The new directive is part of President Joe Biden’s new winter plan for combating COVID-19 and the new omicron variant, which also includes a requirement for private insurers to cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests and paid time off for federal employees to get a booster dose.
"The actions I'm announcing are ones that all Americans can rally behind and should unite us in the fight against COVID-19 and they come from a position of strength," President Joe Biden said in remarks from the National Institutes of Health outside Washington. "We are better positioned than we were a year ago to fight COVID-19."
To date, at least 23 other countries have reported omicron infections which led the U.S. and many other nations to almost immediately bar airline travelers arriving from southern Africa.
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In South Africa, new cases of COVID-19 nearly doubled in a single day to almost 8,600, authorities reported Wednesday, and the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said omicron has now overtaken the delta variant among samples now being analyzed at the genetic level.
But the variant is still surrounded by many unknowns, among them: Is it more contagious than other versions, as some scientists are beginning to suspect? Does it make people more seriously ill? And can it evade the vaccine?
"Any declaration of what will or will not happen with this variant, I think it is too early to say," Fauci said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.