The state Health Department today confirmed that its Laboratories Division has detected the SARS-CoV-2 variant L452R.
Officials said the coronavirus strain was first detected in Denmark in March 2020 and is now found in more than a dozen U.S. states. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection has warned that it will probably become the dominant version in the country by March.
While science has not shown the L452R variant spreads more quickly or poses a greater threat than other COVID-19 strains, officials said there is a concern because it has been linked to a growing number of cases — including several large outbreaks — in California.
“It is common to find variants to viruses like COVID-19. Some present greater risks than others,” said Dr. Sarah Kemble, acting state epidemiologist, in a news release. “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 department’s Laboratories Division began genome sequencing in June to look for possible COVID-19 variants, and now examines 75 specimens a week. It has also developed a testing algorithm designed to find variants as soon as possible after they arrive.
Officials said 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.” Neither has yet been detected in Hawaii.
“Hawaii is not immune to new strains,” said Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char 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.”