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Green hopeful that ‘what we’ve done so far is enough’ to guard against omicron variant

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said he’s “honestly concerned” about the newly discovered omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, but added that panic — especially in Hawaii — is premature.

“The best thing that we’ve done has been to get a lot of our people vaccinated,” Green, a Kohala Hospital emergency room physician, said Monday in an online livestream. “The numbers in Hawaii are better than any other state now.”

According to Green, the rate of Hawaii residents 12 and older who are fully vaccinated is more than 83%.

“That means we’re super protected, very few cases in the hospital. But if omicron ends up being sufficiently different from the delta variant or the other variants, then we’ll get more concerned,” he said.

The World Health Organization on Monday reported there are “considerable uncertainties” about the omicron variant, and warned it contains mutations that could help it both evade an immune-system response and boost its ability to spread from one person to another.

Green said the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the COVID-19 vaccines “are already analyzing the genes” of the omicron variant “to make sure they’re ready, just in case.”

“Now, again, knock on wood (that) what we’ve done so far is enough, that the vaccination will continue to be fully effective,” Green said. “And again, it’s not 100%, but … you’re pretty safe if you’ve been vaccinated.

“But if this thing goes around it, through it, over it — then, we’ll have to adjust the vaccination. And none of us want to deal with that or hear that, but we will have to follow science.”

Some nations are again shutting down international air arrivals. Japan announced it is barring entry to all foreign visitors, joining Israel in doing so. Morocco banned all incoming flights. Other countries, including the U.S. and members of the European Union, have moved to prohibit travelers arriving from southern Africa, where the variant was first discovered.

Green said he thinks the current precautions concerning arriving air passengers in the U.S. and Hawaii are sufficient for the time being.

“There’s no cases that we’ve found in the U.S. mainland right now, and no cases in Hawaii,” he said. “We’re being careful. We have a couple other shields up. We’ve got Hawaii Safe Travels program, which has been very protective. You’ve got to be vaccinated … or otherwise get a pretest to come here. … Any international travelers have to have both vaccination and a pretest. They have to have both.”

Green also said he hopes “everyone will ultimately get a booster in our state. And right now, that’s 1.1 million people.”

“We now know that we have 228,892 third shots that have been given — boosters, in other words. That’s really good; that’s 16% of our population that’s already received a booster,” he noted.

In addition, Gov. David Ige on Monday urged adults 18 and over who have been fully vaccinated for six months or longer to receive booster shots.

Ige’s call for third shots came in a statement announcing his latest COVID-19 emergency proclamation — which transfers the primary emergency powers and responsibilities concerning the pandemic to the counties.

“We must remain vigilant. The omicron variant will likely be detected in the United States,” Ige said. “Hawaii has a robust surveillance system. Our State Laboratories Division has the capacity to conduct whole genomic sequencing to detect variants.

“We have not seen the omicron variant here in Hawaii as of (Monday) morning, but we are closely monitoring the situation and will identify the variant as early as possible, should it show up here.”

Green acknowledged “all eyes are going to be on omicron the next two weeks, because we want to make sure we’re not dealing with a new beast.”

“All I can tell you is, Hawaii is better prepared and protected than anywhere else. But that doesn’t mean we’re immune or completely iron-clad safe,” he said. “… I think you should just live your lives normally if you’re fully vaccinated. Now, if you’re not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all, you would be wise to wear a mask around anybody.”

Living life normally, Green said, includes holiday gatherings with family and friends.

“If you’re having a family party and you know your family is pretty well taken care of for vaccination purposes, go and give them a hug and have a loving time together.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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