The state’s Department of Health reported the first detection of the SARS-CoV-2 variant L452R on Monday, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have projected to become the dominant strain of the virus this spring.
The DOH’s Laboratories Division confirmed the variant yesterday, which was first detected in Denmark last March. The strain was detected in one person who traveled to the Mainland on O‘ahu and one person on Maui who did not. The cases were not related, officials said.
“Hawai‘i is not immune to new strains,” DOH Director Dr. Elizabeth Char said in a statement. “The arrival of L452R reminds us we must wear masks, maintain physical distance from people outside our immediate households, and avoid crowds. These safe practices coupled with COVID-19 vaccines will help us stop the spread.”
Monday afternoon, Gov. David Ige said the state’s second-test system developed for Safe Travels discovered the variant. The state’s State Laboratories Division began genome sequencing in June looking for possible COVID-19 variants, the release said. It now examines 75 specimens a week and has developed a testing algorithm designed to find variants.
“We do have a surveillance system in place and our state lab is taking samples and looking for variants because we know that’s an important function,” Ige said. “I’m glad that our surveillance system did identify this variant because it demonstrates that we are working very hard so that we can identify any new introduction of variants here in the islands.”
While the L452R variant has been linked to a growing number of cases in California, the state reported that “science has not shown the L452R variant spreads more quickly or poses a greater threat than other COVID-19 strains,” the release said.
“We don’t believe this new variant is more deadly or more easily transmittable than the other variants, but we want to make sure that we can be on top of it should it become an issue,” Ige said.
Dr. Sarah Kemble, the acting state epidemiologist, said the department is contacting other states that have identified this variant.
“It is common to find variants to viruses like COVID-19. Some present greater risks than others,” Kemble said in a statement. “We are working with our colleagues in other states as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to learn more about the characteristics of this particular variant.”
The B.1.1.7 variant first found in the United Kingdom and the B.1.351 variant first found in South Africa both have enhanced transmissibility, but neither of these have been detected in Hawai‘i.
Monday, the state reported 123 new COVID-19 infections. No new cases were reported on Kaua‘i, which has three active cases that are all in isolation.
The state also identified 60 previously unreported COVID-19 related fatalities, which brings the state’s death toll to 402.
These deaths were reported through a review of the department’s Electronic Death Registration System, which found deaths in the latter part of last year including 51 on O‘ahu, six on Hawai‘i Island and three on Maui.