A Hawaii inmate at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, has tested positive for COVID-19, prompting private prison operator CoreCivic to put 264 Hawaii prisoners into 14-day quarantine as a precaution.

The case marks the first confirmed infection of a Hawaii inmate at Saguaro, where 1,083 Hawaii prisoners are being housed because there is no room for them in the state prison system.

Hawaii prison officials reported earlier this week that a staff member at Saguaro had tested positive for the coronavirus, and said contact tracing prompted the prison to test one Hawaii inmate and move him to a medical isolation unit.

That prisoner later turned out to be infected, and now two other inmates are also being tested, according to the Hawaii Department of Public Safety. CoreCivic also placed the 264 prisoners in three housing pods into isolation.

Saguaro Correctional Facility, Eloy, Arizona with workers. Not quite sure if these are prisoners or security personnel. 6 march 2016. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona. Hawaii inmates in three housing pods have been placed in 14-day quarantine as a precaution after a prisoner tested positive for COVID-19. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“The department is working with Saguaro to make sure all necessary precautions are taken to mitigate any potential spread of the virus,” said acting Public Safety Director Fred Hyun in a written statement. “Saguaro leadership has assured us that they are closely monitoring the inmates and have made the health and safety of the staff and inmates under their supervision their top priority.”

COVID-19 spread rapidly through Oahu Community Correctional Center earlier this year, but there are fewer movements of inmates in and out of the Saguaro prison, which should make it easier to prevent the virus from being introduced.

Visits at Saguaro were suspended as of March 18 as a precaution, and Saguaro nursing staff are doing daily temperature checks and monitoring the inmates for symptoms. The prison has also implemented a program of temperature screening for staff who enter the facility.

CoreCivic has also screened the Hawaii population to identify inmates who are at higher risk from the disease because of preexisting health problems. Those inmates were being moved to separate housing units away from the general population, according to prison officials.

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