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Maui County has highest California variant cases in state

DOH: Jail cluster cases are from the variant

Maui County has the largest amount of the highly transmissible California variant among specimens analyzed by the state Department of Health’s Laboratories Division.

The COVID-19 variant discovered in California, also known as the B.1.429 variant, has been found in 165 specimens from Maui that have been subject to genomic sequencing in the state, the DOH said Friday.

Oahu has seen 116 specimens of the California variant, while Hawaii County recorded 10 and Kauai had one.

State Laboratories Division Director Dr. Edward Desmond said Friday that the highly transmissible variant on Maui is linked to the high daily cases counts on the island. With the California variant and others, antibodies are slightly less effective, so even if someone is vaccinated, they could get mild symptoms or be asymptomatic. However, the vaccine will still prevent them from getting seriously ill or going to the hospital, Desmond said during “The Weekly Dose” program on the DOH’s Facebook page.

Statewide, there have been 346 variant cases detected through genomic sequencing in the state, with the California variant the most common at 302 cases; followed by the B.1.1.7 variant, first found in the U.K., with 37 cases; and the B.1.351 variant, first found in South Africa, at seven cases.

Overall, three cases of the variant that originated in the U.K. have been found in Maui County, with no reported cases of the variant that originated in South Africa.

The DOH began looking for variants in June by examining specimens each week.

Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang said during a county news conference Friday afternoon that as of last week, “all of the cases” from the Maui Community Correctional Center’s cluster were the California variant.

The facility currently has two active cases among inmates and has seen 92 inmate recoveries as well as two staff recoveries, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

Pang said the county is “doing actually well against the normal COVID.” But with the “very, very, aggressive variants,” he added, “you really got to step it up.”

He stressed following the usual health and safety protocols but also getting vaccinated.

DOH’s vaccination site at the University of Hawaii Maui College on Friday filled up little more than half of its allotted 900 spots.

Pang urged residents ages 16 to 17 to get their Pfizer shots, which is the only vaccine allotted for that age group, and encouraged those 18 and older to get Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

He said this will assist with herd immunity while lessening each person’s chances of becoming extremely ill and even suffering long-term effects of COVID-19. Being vaccinated could also come in handy as businesses, events or even travel may require proof of vaccination in the future, Pang said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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