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B117 found on O‘ahu, vaccinations efforts continue

HONOLULU — Friday afternoon, Gov. David Ige confirmed that the B117, or UK variant, strain of COVID-19 has been detected in Hawai‘i.

The UK variant was first detected in England in December, and has been found to be “highly transmissible,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Earlier this week, the state identified four different strains on the islands that “exhibit a molecular clue associated with the UK B117” strain in addition to nine samples of the Denmark L452R strain found last week, some without travel history.

The B117 case is a patient on O‘ahu without any history of travel, state Department of Health Acting Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said.

Kemble said contact tracing is ongoing.

“We are right away investigating those cases actively, identifying contacts and making sure that cases are in isolation and contacts are in quarantine,” Kemble said.

As part of the state’s disease-surveillance system, the DOH has the capability to do whole-genome sequencing, which in under a week can analyze the genetic material of the virus and identify these different types of strains, DOH Laboratories Division’s Dr. Edward Desmond said. There was only one confirmed B117 case as of Friday afternoon, with two more cases being sequenced by the end of the weekend.

“While we are worried that there is a B117 case here … we’re concerned because it’s more infectious,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green said.

Recent studies show the variant has been found to be up to 60% more infectious. “It is something that can spread more aggressively,” Green said.

However, Green assured that vaccinations do work on the B117 variant. The state doled out close to 190,000 dosages as of Thursday.

On Kaua‘i, more than 14,000 dosages have been given, Mayor Derek Kawakami said Friday.

“Over the next few weeks, we will focus on providing second doses for Phases 1A/1B, as well as providing mobile clinics for homebound residents who are eligible,” Kawakami said.

The county is expecting to move into the next phase, 1C, which includes kupuna 65 to 74, residents 16 to 64 with high-risk health conditions, and all other essential workers not included in Phases 1A or 1B, “as soon as vaccine supply allows,” Kawakami said.

In recent weeks, the state has seen lower case counts and fewer hospitalizations. As of Friday, the state has a seven-day average positivity rate of 1.83%, has only 57 people hospitalized across the state, and has an average of 85.1 new daily cases, significantly down from January.

“The good news is, we know how to slow the spread, and we’ve proven we can be successful,” Ige said. “These actions will continue to deter the spread of COVID-19 here on the islands.”

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Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or sbodon@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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