Inmates from Nevada who are being held in a privately run prison along with Hawaii convicts have tested positive for COVID-19, but the Hawaii Department of Public Safety says no Hawaii inmates have tested positive or shown any symptoms so far.

Hawaii prison officials reported Friday that 69 Nevada inmates at Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, have tested positive in the outbreak, but said most of the 1,125 Hawaii prisoners there are held in a separate portion of the prison away from the Nevada convicts.

“Hawaii inmates housed in general population have not been affected,” according to the written statement released by Hawaii prison officials. “No Hawaii inmates are exhibiting symptoms of any infectious respiratory illnesses.”

CCA Arizona Saguaro Correctional Center2. 5 march 2016
The Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona currently houses about 1,125 Hawaii inmates as well as prisoners from other states. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

However, prison operator CoreCivic has placed 80 Hawaii inmates in quarantine, and determined through contact tracing that 28 of the Hawaii prisoners “may have had possible contact” with infected Nevada inmates.

“As a precautionary measure, the 28 Hawaii inmates were relocated to vacant housing and will be monitored for symptoms for 14 days, to include daily temperature checks,” according to Hawaii corrections officials.

Another 47 of the 80 inmates are being held in a restrictive housing unit with inmates from Nevada and Kansas, and they are also being monitored for symptoms for 14 days, to include daily temperature checks.

The remaining five Hawaii prisoners in isolation are housed in the prison medical unit for routine medical appointments unrelated to the precautionary monitoring, according to the Public Safety announcement.

“The Department is in constant communication with the Saguaro facility administration. They assure us they are proactively taking all necessary precautions to mitigate any potential spread of the virus inside their facility, to include continual, enhanced screening of anyone entering the facility, and monitoring inmates and staff for signs and symptoms due to possible exposure,” Hawaii Department of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda said in a statement.

Ken Lawson, co-director of the Hawaii Innocence Project, urged the state to test all inmates and staff at Saguaro regardless of whether they are showing symptoms. He also urged prison officials to provide personal safety equipment such as masks and gloves.

“Over the last several months the science has told us that people can spread COVID-19 when they are asymptomatic to the virus,”  Lawson wrote in correspondence with the department. He added that “if the prison will not provide PSE, then Hawaii should.”

The Arizona prison has a bed capacity of 1,926 inmates, and now holds 99 inmates from Nevada, and 120 from Kansas.

CoreCivic’s planning and response to COVID-19 can be reviewed on the prison website.

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