An inmate who was taken to the Oahu Community Correctional Center on Monday has tested positive for COVID-19, marking the first time state corrections officials have detected the virus in Hawaii’s inmate population, according to the Department of Public Safety.
Public Safety officials also announced in written statements that four corrections officers at OCCC and other facilities tested positive this week.
One of the adult corrections officers works at the medium security Halawa Correctional Facility, which is the state’s largest prison, and received the positive test result on Thursday. Two other corrections officers who work at the minimum security Waiawa Correctional Facility tested positive on Tuesday and Thursday, according to a statement Friday from the public safety department.
The fourth ACO worked in the quarantine area of OCCC, according to staff who spoke on condition that they not be identified.
The risk of infection to other staff at Waiawa and Halawa is “believed to be minimal because all staff regularly practice the necessary safety and sanitation precautions called for in their facilities’ Pandemic Control Plan, all of which have been ingrained in everyone over the past few months,” Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda said in a statement.
The department did not respond Friday to questions regarding reports from corrections staff that a second OCCC inmate also tested positive.
In an apparently unrelated incident, officials at the Honolulu Federal Detention Center also reported a staff member there has tested positive for COVID-19.
The federal Bureau of Prisons declined to release any further information about when they learned of that test result, other than to say that contact tracing was done to determine whether any other staff may have been exposed. Honolulu FDC has already reported that two inmates tested positive for COVID-19 there, including one who has been released.
The inmate who tested positive at OCCC was being held in a portion of the facility designated for mandatory 14-day intake quarantine, which is a standard procedure for all new inmates. The prisoner was tested on Tuesday after staff learned of a “possible exposure” to the virus before the inmate arrived at the jail, according to a statement from the public safety department.
“The facility acted quickly to implement the Department’s COVID-19 pandemic protocol for correctional facilities, in an effort to mitigate any potential spread of the virus,” said Espinda.
OCCC has a design capacity of 628 prisoners, but was holding 938 male and female prisoners as of Aug. 3, according to data published by the department.
The new coronavirus has spread rapidly through jails and prisons on the mainland, and fears of widespread infections in the packed facilities in Hawaii prompted the state Supreme Court in April to set up an expedited process for low-risk inmates to seek release.
The release program was supported by state Public Defender James Tabe, who warned that an outbreak in the jails and prisons would affect everyone because seriously ill inmates would end up in Hawaii hospitals, creating an additional burden on the state health care system.
The Supreme Court court lifted its order in June after infection rates in Hawaii dropped significantly.
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