State lab detects COVID-19 variant

The state Department of Health State Laboratories Division announced Monday it has detected the SARS-CoV-2 variant L452R.

This strain of COVID-19 was first detected in Denmark in March 2020. It is now found in more than a dozen U.S. states, according to the department. Science has not shown the L452R variant spreads more quickly or poses a greater threat than other COVID-19 strains, but there is concern because it has been linked to a growing number of cases in California including several large outbreaks.

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“It is common to find variants to viruses like COVID-19. Some present greater risks than others,” said Dr. Sarah Kemble, acting state epidemiologist. “We are working with our colleagues in other states as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn more about the characteristics of this particular variant.”

The department’s State Laboratories Division began genome sequencing in June looking for possible COVID-19 variants. It now examines 75 specimens a week and has developed a testing algorithm designed to find variants as soon as possible after they arrive.

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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 B.1.1.7 nor B.1.351 has been detected in Hawaii.

“Hawaii is not immune to new strains,” said Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char. “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.”

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