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Omicron variant detected on Oahu

State health officials confirmed Thursday that the omicron variant has been detected on Oahu, the first known case of the strain in the islands.

“This isn’t reason for panic, but it is reason for concern,” state Department of Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char said in a news release. “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.”

On Monday, Diagnostic Laboratory Services identified a specimen with a molecular clue indicating it might be omicron, the Health Department said. The State Laboratories Division performed expedited whole genome sequencing and determined Thursday that the specimen is the omicron variant.

The COVID-19-positive individual is an Oahu resident with moderate symptoms who had previously been infected with the virus but was never vaccinated. The person had no history of travel, but state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said during a news conference on Thursday afternoon that she suspected the variant was introduced to the islands via travel before infecting the Oahu resident.

“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,” Kemble said. “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.”

Anyone contacted by a case investigator from DOH is asked to cooperate to help slow the spread of COVID-19, the department said. Anyone with symptoms also should get tested and avoid other people. Unvaccinated people who come in close contact with COVID-positive individuals are advised to get tested, the department added.

For more information on free testing and vaccines, visit hawaiicovid19.com/.

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