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DOH: California variant is the ‘predominant strain’ on Maui

Epidemiologist says 85% of samples analyzed in March were variants

Acting state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble discusses COVID-19 variants during a Maui County news conference on Wednesday.

The COVID-19 variant first discovered in California has now become “the predominant strain” among cases on Maui, the state’s acting epidemiologist said Wednesday.

Eighty-five percent of samples that were taken from Maui in March were either of the B.1429 variant, which was initially detected in Los Angeles County, and the B.1.1.7 variant, first found in the U.K. Health officials say both are more transmissible and that the B.1.429 variant in particular, which was found in 82 percent of the samples, has taken hold on Maui.

“That’s the strain that we’ve been talking about that we’ve been seeing in many of the clusters that we’re investigating in the community in Maui,” Dr. Sarah Kemble said during a Maui County news conference on Wednesday. “So we know that this strain really has kind of taken over in Maui.”

Earlier this month, the state Department of Health reported that Maui County had the largest amount of the B.1.429 variant among specimens analyzed by the DOH Laboratories Division. Since June, the division has been taking samples across the state and conducting genome sequencing in search of COVID-19 variants.

“It now examines about 75 specimens a week and has developed an algorithm designed to find variants as soon as possible after they arrive,” DOH spokesman Brooks Baehr said.

On April 9, the department that there had been 346 variant cases detected through genomic sequencing in the state, with 203 cases of the B.1.429 variant, 37 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant and seven cases of the B.1.351 variant first found in South Africa.

The B.1.429 variant has been found in 165 specimens from Maui, 116 on Oahu, 10 on Hawaii island and one on Kauai.

“I would definitely say that’s the predominant strain,” Kemble said Wednesday.

However, Kemble said that one encouraging sign that the COVID-19 vaccine is working, even against variants, is that nursing homes on Maui, Oahu and Hawaii island have seen single cases that never developed into largescale clusters like they did in the early days of the pandemic. A year ago, one or two cases would have spiraled into clusters, hospitalizations and deaths, Kemble said.

“It’s a really different feeling as we work with those facilities — I can tell you the fear and anxiety with a case before and it was well justified — we’re just not seeing that to the same degree now,” she said.

As of Wednesday, 48 percent of Maui County’s population over 18 had received at least one dose of the vaccine, which doesn’t include data from federally administered programs, Kemble said.

And, local health officials are “not seeing a disproportionate breakthrough” of B.1.429 variant cases among vaccinated residents.

“That’s held up with what we’re hearing nationally, that vaccine seems to work for this strain,” Kemble said.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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