Hawaii health officials have found evidence that the omicron variant of the coronavirus is likely in Maui County and Hawaii County.

At a press conference Wednesday, health department officials said they have identified four specimens from Hawaii Island and two from Maui that have a molecular clue suggesting they may be the omicron variant of Covid-19.

The state has confirmed just 74 omicron specimens statewide, but Hawaii health officials said Wednesday they’re certain the highly transmissible Covid variant is much more widespread.

“The omicron variant is either already or about to become the predominant variant in our state,” Ed Desmond, administrator of the Hawaii laboratories division of the health department, told reporters. “It’s spreading like wildfire compared with delta, which was considered a very transmissible strain.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 73% of Covid cases nationwide are the omicron variant.

Hawaii reported 961 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and two deaths. Hospitalization numbers are starting to rise, with 68 hospitalized for Covid statewide Wednesday.

The surge is worst on Oahu, where cases are up 990% over the past 14 days and 9.6% of Covid tests are coming back positive.

On the neighbor islands, Covid is spreading but not as fast. Over the past 14 days, case counts grew 102% in Maui County, 56% in Hawaii County and 6% in Kauai County, according to state data.

Large Covid-19 vaccine clinic sign near Straub Hospital.
Hawaii health officials say that everyone who is eligible for a booster should get one right away. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Desmond said omicron’s quick rise is expected. The variant has been in Hawaii for about three and a half weeks and has taken just two to four weeks to become the dominant virus strain elsewhere.

The state lab has been actively looking for omicron on the neighbor islands and is performing whole genome sequencing on the six neighbor island samples to confirm whether omicron is truly present; it expects to finish that by Sunday.

Janet Berreman, Kauai district health officer, said even though no strains of omicron have been detected there, the health department believes it is present.

“I am assuming and we are assuming that omicron is already here,” Berreman said.

Desmond said the 74 confirmed specimens of omicron are just a sample of the cases and his lab cannot test every case.

“We’re always going to be a little behind the times because omicron spreads so quickly,” he said.

He said omicron doubles every two or three days. Within a week, it multiplies eight-fold and within a couple of weeks it is expected to become the dominant strain.

Berreman said the rapid rise of Covid cases in Hawaii is the greatest indicator that omicron is widespread, given its transmissibility.

“The epidemiology of the omicron variant is ahead of our ability to confirm it in laboratories,” Berreman said.

She urged residents not to wait for government restrictions and to take their own precautions to prevent the virus from spreading.

“I don’t know that we can really flatten this curve given how quickly it’s rising,” she said, adding that vaccines and boosters are the best ways to prevent hospitalization and death. “The booster is critically important for preventing severe disease from the omicron variant.”

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