Seven Hawaii inmates have been hospitalized in Arizona after being infected with COVID-19 at Saguaro Correctional Center, according to an announcement by the state Department of Public Safety on Monday.

Mass testing of the Hawaii inmates held at the privately run prison, operated by CoreCivic, will begin this week to control the spread of the disease.

A total of 1,082 Hawaii inmates are being held at Saguaro in Eloy, Arizona because there is no room for them in Hawaii prisons, and 56 of those prisoners have now tested positive for the coronavirus, according to DPS.

Seven Hawaii prisoners who were being held at Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona have now been hospitalized after being infected with COVID-19.

Patti Epler/Civil Beat

The outbreak at Saguaro is now the second largest in the Hawaii correctional system so far. Hawaii corrections officials instructed CoreCivic to launch a program of mass testing of inmates that will begin Thursday.

Only the Oahu Community Correctional Center has had more COVID-19 cases, with 412 inmates testing positive there along with 99 staff members. Most of the inmates and staff at OCCC have since recovered, although one inmate remains hospitalized, according to the department.

Lawyers and other inmate advocates have been urging Hawaii prison officials to step up testing at Saguaro since even before COVID-19 cases were first detected among Nevada inmates being held there in July.

CoreCivic reported earlier this month that a staffer at Saguaro had tested positive, and then discovered the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in a Hawaii inmate days later.

One of those who has been sounding the alarm about the Arizona prison is Hawaii lawyer Carrie Ann Shirota, who told authorities that one of her clients and others in the same housing unit got sick in early October.

They were experiencing “classic COVID symptoms,” but as of early last week had not been tested, she said. Shirota noted that guidelines for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for correctional facilities recommends that inmates with symptoms be referred for evaluation and testing.

Shirota said the prison administration has locked down the inmates in certain housing pods for extended periods to try to prevent the spread of the disease, and her client has now been in what is being described as “precautionary 14-day quarantine” for almost a month.

Hawaii prison officials said Monday that 741 Hawaii inmates at Saguaro have now been placed in a precautionary 14-day quarantine.

The mass testing of inmates at Saguaro will be handled by prison staff including a team of nurses brought in from other facilities, and is expected to be completed in one day, according to Hawaii prison officials.

“The Department is in constant communication with the Saguaro facility administration,” said Fred Hyun, acting director of the Hawaii Department of Public Safety, in a written statement. “The Warden and I both agreed that expedited testing is necessary to identify hot spots and contain the spread.”

The Saguaro staff is ready with isolation and quarantine plans once it has the inmate test results, and staff have assured Hawaii prison officials they are following the federal CDC guidelines for correctional facilities, Hyun said in his statement.

In addition to the testing, Saguaro has also assured Hawaii officials that the facility “will continue to implement stringent sanitation and hygiene measures to limit potential exposure and mitigate the spread of coronavirus to inmates and staff,” according to Hyun’s statement.

More information on Saguaro’s operations and procedures is available at:  https://www.corecivic.com/en/corecivic-statement-on-covid-19-prevention

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