Hawaii marks record 355 COVID-19 cases, including 86 at jail

HONOLULU — The state Department of Public Safety said Thursday overcrowded conditions prompted staff to to place new inmates at Hawaii’s biggest jail with the facility’s general population before the end of their 14 days of quarantine.

The disclosure by Nolan Espinda, the department’s director, came as the state reported a record 355 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Hawaii, including 86 cases at the jail.

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The department has a policy of keeping newly arrived inmates in quarantine to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But Espinda said there were some occasions where overcrowding “required us to cut down that quarantine period toward the very end when the inmates displayed no symptoms.”

Espinda said the jail — Oahu Community Correctional Center in Honolulu — has four virus hot spots. It houses more than 900 inmates.

The sharp increase in Hawaii’s overall case count comes as the coronavirus has been rapidly spreading on Oahu, the state’s population center. The previous daily record was 231 new cases, reported on Saturday.

“Clearly, we are headed in the wrong direction. The prevalence of COVID-19 is expanding here in our community,” Ige said at a news conference.

Ige said cases were spreading as people shared lunch in workplace break rooms or spoke to teach other at office water coolers. He said these types of face-to-face interactions must stop to bring the disease under control.

He warned he will have to reimpose more restrictions, particularly on Oahu, if the situation doesn’t improve. However, he said the mayors of Hawaii, Kauai and Maui want to keep their restrictions at existing levels given the virus is much less common on their islands.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green noted that Hawaii reported a cumulative 900 cases from February through June, followed by 1,200 cases in July. But so far in August, it’s reported more than 2,100 cases.

The cluster at the Oahu Community Correctional Center included 92 inmates and 24 staff members.

All court transports from Oahu correctional facilities will be suspended through Friday. Hearings will be held by video to the extent possible.

So far, no inmates at other Hawaii correctional facilities have tested positive, according to the public safety department. Two staff members at Waiawa Correctional Facility and one staff member at Halawa Correctional Facility have tested positive.

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In April, the Hawaii Supreme Court ordered the state and lower courts to reduce inmate populations to decrease the chances of the coronavirus spreading. It ended the order in June after several hundred inmates were released.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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