New COVID-19 Emergency Proclamation Signed, Omicron Not Yet Detected in Hawai‘i
Gov. David Ige has signed the latest COVID-19 emergency proclamation, setting the stage for the next phase of state and county measures. The latest proclamation gives the counties the ability to issue emergency orders without seeking approval of the state.
Both Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi and Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said they would be getting rid of the six-foot distancing rule currently in place for restaurants, allowing eateries to resume full capacity for dining indoors, starting Dec. 1, 2021. Mayor Victorino said indoor dining will still be limited to those who show proof of vaccination or testing in Maui County.
“While we are moving forward with updated emergency measures, we must remain vigilant. The Omicron variant will likely be detected in the United States,” said Gov. Ige. “Hawaiʻi 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 Hawaiʻi as of this morning, but we are closely monitoring the situation and will identify the variant as early as possible should it show up here.”
The governor also renewed his call for residents to get vaccinated and for fully vaccinated adults 18 and over to get their booster shots if at least six months have passed since the completion of their vaccination regimen.
This COVID-19 emergency proclamation is in effect through Jan. 28, 2022 unless terminated or superseded by a separate proclamation.
Health Officials Discuss Omicron Variant and Areas of Concern
Dr. Kemble said the Omicron variant has one feature, an S Target Dropout, that makes it more easily detectable in some PCR tests. This was utilized last year with the B117 variant in the UK. Health officials have put out the same call to participating laboratories to inform the state Department of Health right away if there is an “S Target Dropout.” Sequencing takes about a week on average, and with that molecular clue, it can be prioritized for further investigation.
“We have not had any reported cases Omicron in Hawaiʻi at this point, nor are we tracking any as Target Dropouts,” said Dr. Kemble. “Also, nationally, I had confirmation from CDC this morning that we have yet to identify a case of Omicron in the US as of today.”
“What the public health world is concerned about here is with even just these clusters being reported out of several countries, it is likely, as we have seen before, that it is already spread farther that what we have yet to detect,” said Dr. Kemble, noting that health officials are looking at ways to ramp up surveillance to ensure it is identified swiftly.
She discussed areas of concern with the Omicron variant. “One is as with every new varian that has emerged, is that we know so little about it. What we know so far is that it has a large number of mutations, including in the spike protein, and that raises concern because that’s how the virus finds its way into our bodies. By mutating there, it may be finding new ways to infect and transmit,” said Dr. Kemble.
“I do want to remind everyone, as we have seen with other variants, we have yet to know what the actual practical implications of that may be,” she said. “There is some concern that it may be more transmissible, because we are seeing it begin to emerge in areas that were already dominated by Delta; and Delta was known to be very effective at transmission. So perhaps seeing outbreaks of this new variant means that it may be also highly transmissible.”
Dr. Kemble said health officials don’t yet know a lot about how dangerous it is to people in terms of severity of disease. “Those are questions that all state epidemiologists are asking right now and anxious to know,” she said.
“The other thing that I think raises concerns about this variant is that it exposes a weakness that we have had globally since the beginning of this pandemic–and that is this virus has found ways to transmit through human populations. And the best way to fight it really is to come together–globally, within our communities, and our state–and it really exploits any divisions that we have within those systems. So when there are health inequities, when there are gaps and pockets in which there are large numbers of unvaccinated people, that’s when these variants really exploit and can transmit rapidly.”
“That’s a lesson we really need to learn from this pandemic–that we have to pull together to stay on top of this and make sure that we don’t become victims again to having widespread transmission in areas where we perhaps could prevent it by pairing vaccination with mitigation measures that we already know so well,” said Dr. Kemble.
Information on where vaccines are available can be found at https://hawaiicovid19.com/vaccine/.
*Maui Now’s Wendy Osher contributed to this report.