New P.2 Variant Found on O‘ahu; B.1.429 Variant Associated with Increased COVID-19 Cases on Maui
B.1.429 Variant Associated With Increase of COVID-19 Cases on Maui
The Hawai‘i Department of Health’s State Laboratories Division has confirmed a variant of concern, associated with an increase of COVID-19 cases on Maui.
The B.1.429 variant, previously called L452R, was first detected in Hawai‘i almost four weeks ago.
According to the state Department of Health, there have been a total of 50-60 cases of the B.1.429 variant on Maui, 28 of them found in January and February of 2021 and the rest occurring last year. Other islands have the variant, but it is present in lesser numbers. Maui cases make up about half of all B1249 cases in the state to date, according to health officials.
Health officials say there have been 10 cases of the variant linked to the cluster at the Maui Community Correctional Center, but there are also cases that have surfaced out in the community.
The B.1.429 variant was first detected in California in December, but has become the predominant strain in California, and is now found in more than 40 other states.
Dr. Sarah Kemble, acting state epidemiologist, says response to these strains is the same mitigation guidance as other COVID strains found to date including: wearing mask, watch distance, staying home when you’re sick, washing hands and also getting the vaccine when it’s your turn.
According to Dr. Kemble, at least one lab study has shown that there may need to be more antibody in order to neutralize this strain of the virus.
The DOH says the B.1.429 variant may be more transmissible than other COVID strains but there is still much to learn about this variant, and it is still considered “under investigation” by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is not clear how effective current vaccines are against B.1.429.
“There could be a couple of reasons why a strain takes over. One is something called Founder Effect–and that means it was there at the right place and the right time when a larger outbreak happened,” said Dr. Kemble during a media briefing this morning. “That outbreak may have more to do with the setting, how closely people are together in a congregate setting for example, as we so often see in the correctional settings. And then as that strain establishes, it becomes the predominant strain.”
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s spreading more quickly. But the other possibility is that it is spreading more quickly, and that leads to a rise in cases. That’s what the concern would be and what we want to watch for,” she said. “There have been a couple of preliminary findings from scientists in California that have looked at transmission in households with this strain. They think it might be spreading a little bit more quickly, but probably not as quickly as the B.1.1.7 strain.”
P.2 Variant Identified in One Individual on O‘ahu
The State Laboratories Division has also confirmed the presence of a new COVID variant in Hawai‘i. the P.2 variant, which contains the E484K mutation, was identified through surveillance testing conducted on O‘ahu.
The P.2 variant has thus far been detected in one individual who lives on O‘ahu. “That individual recently traveled to the US mainland,” said Acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble. “This was an asymptomatic case tested for screening purposes and at this point, the case and close contacts are all out of isolation and quarantine. We have not detected further transmission related to that.”
While the implications of this additional strain are unknown at this time, the P.2 variant is closely watched because two individuals in Brazil who were previously infected with COVID were reinfected with the P.2 variant, according to state health officials.
It is unclear whether this variant is more resistant to vaccines and antibodies gained through previous COVID infection.
“New case counts are down from a month ago, but these variants remind us to remain vigilant,” said State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char in a department press release. “The more the virus is able to infect people, the more opportunity it has to mutate, so it behooves us to prevent infections. We all know that is done by wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, avoiding large gatherings, and getting vaccinated when it is our turn.”
While the P.2 variant is still being studied, people previously vaccinated or previously infected are not expected to become seriously ill if infected with the P.2 variant. The P.2 variant is thought to have originated in Brazil. It has been found in several mainland states and Europe.
Additional Three Cases of B.1.1.7 Variant Confirmed on O‘ahu
Also, three additional cases of the B.1.1.7 variant are confirmed on O‘ahu. This brings the total number of B.1.1.7 cases in Hawai‘i to six. All six are on O‘ahu and are household contacts.
“The P.2, B.1.429, and B.1.1.7 variants were discovered as part of proactive statewide surveillance conducted by the DOH in collaboration with private hospitals and independent clinical laboratories,” said State Laboratories Division Director Dr. Edward Desmond. Hawaiʻi currently leads the nation in the percentage of specimens which are sequenced and sent to the international GISAID (global initiative on sharing all influenza data) database.
Discovery of variants by DOH helps in that patients identified with variant strains can be the focus of the most rigorous contact tracing efforts.