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Omicron suspected in 3 more Oahu cases

New specimens show ‘no clear indications’ so far that they are tied to initial case

Three COVID-19 specimens from Oahu are being further examined for the omicron variant after they presented molecular clues related to the new strain, state health officials said Friday afternoon.

The possible omicron cases come a day after the DOH’s State Laboratories Division identified the state’s first recorded omicron case in an adult on Oahu under the age of 65 who had no history of travel, indicating community spread. The person, who is unvaccinated but had contracted COVID-19 previously, is isolating at home with symptoms that included a cough, body aches and headache.

The three specimens had “no clear indications” that they are tied to the initial case, said State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble, who appeared at Maui County’s news conference Friday afternoon.

“We should know sometime next week if we have additional cases (of omicron) identified,” Kemble said.

She said that the variant has not been detected in Maui County and that the state has analyzed samples from Maui taken during the week of Thanksgiving, of which none showed the variant.

Samples from around the state continue to be analyzed, she added.

The main samples come from Oahu and Hawaii island, but DOH has been “putting out calls to all our clinical laboratories” to ensure specimens can be analyzed throughout the state.

“It’s likely we have omicron circulating at some level in our community in Hawaii as we speak,” said Kemble, who later added that “it’s definitely cause for some concern, but it’s not cause for panic. We have come a long way in this pandemic. We have many tools in the toolbox.”

She said the vaccine still serves an important role, including with the new variant, and that adults should also get their boosters if they haven’t already.

Kemble acknowledged that the three specimens presented the clue called an “S gene dropout.”

The omicron variant is of concern due to the number of mutations seen in its spike protein that lets the virus attach to human cells.

She said scientists are still trying to learn if vaccines and/or natural antibodies are able to contain the variant and how severe the disease is with the variant.

Mayor Michael Victorino said Friday that the county is in an “unchartered” area as it is trying to reopen while the omicron variant is lurking.

He said the county is “keeping a close eye” on the variant and its effects.

Victorino previously said Thursday that he had no plans to change public health restrictions for the county at this time.

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

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