COVID-19 vaccine to be available for inmates, staffers early this year

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Vehicles are parked in front of Hawaii Community Correction Center in Hilo on Tuesday.

With the coronavirus making its unwelcome presence felt in three Oahu correctional facilities and a private Arizona prison housing Hawaii inmates, COVID-19 vaccinations will soon be available for the state’s prisons and jail staff.

According to Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz, staffers in the state’s jails and prisons are included in Phase 1B of the state’s vaccinations plan, and those who elect to receive the non-compulsory two-shot vaccination are set to do so early this year.

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Top-priority vaccinations of health care workers and those in nursing homes are in progress.

“We hope that all our staff and the inmates will consider it in their best interest to get the vaccine when it is offered to them,” Schwartz said.

According to Schwartz, vaccinations will be available to inmates after staff are vaccinated.

As of Wednesday, 457 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at Oahu Community Center, with 448 listed as recovered, according to the DPS website. One inmate was listed as currently infected and was in isolation there.

At Halawa Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison with a special needs facility, 450 inmates have tested positive, with 227 inmates actively infected and 219 in medical isolation. HCF reports 226 inmates have recovered.

And at Waiawa Correctional Facility, a minimum-security prison, 213 inmates have tested positive, with one hospitalized and the remainder listed as recovered.

Staff at those facilities also have been affected by the virus. At OCCC, seven staff are actively infected, while 96 were listed as recovered. At Halawa, 28 staff were reported actively infected as of Tuesday, while 34 have recovered.

Three staffers at the Women’s Community Correctional Facility on Oahu and one at Kauai Community Correctional Facility have tested positive, but all have recovered, according to DPS. No inmates tested positive at those facilities.

On the Big Island, one inmate and one staffer at Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo tested positive. Both have since recovered.

Surge testing of inmates and staff continues, according to the state’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center.

On Monday, Gov. David Ige acknowledged the overcrowded conditions in the state’s jails and prisons, adding that “really spreads the virus.”

“We have tested all of those in prison and staff, and will continue to test on a regular basis,” Ige said during a Facebook Live stream. “The challenge at Halawa, for example, is there’s no way to separate and segregate those who are infected from others. And we do our best to isolate those infected with COVID. But it’s just the nature of the prison that makes it a huge challenge for us.

“We do see that, within a week or two, we can get the total case counts under control. And then, it’s just trying to make sure that they don’t spread the virus within the facility. Both Halawa and OCCC has taken us a while to get through and isolate, just because of the overcrowded conditions.”

DPS also reports four active infections and seven personnel recovered in its Sheriff’s Division, which is tasked with transporting inmates between the correctional facilities and courts, as well as guarding inmates while they are in the courthouse.

Two DPS administrative personnel have also been infected, and both are listed as recovered.

Schwartz said the more than 1,000 Hawaii inmates housed at Saguaro Correctional Center, a private prison operated by CoreCivic — formerly Corrections Corporation of America — fall under Arizona’s jurisdiction as well as that state’s guidelines for vaccinations.

As of Wednesday, 657 infections among Hawaii inmates have been reported there, with 654 reported as recovered. Two inmates were still actively infected and there was one COVID-19 death.

That inmate, who died Nov. 17 at an Arizona hospital, hasn’t been named, but was reported to be between 60 and 69 years old with underlying health conditions.

Two other inmates who died at Saguaro — 64-year-old Fiatau Mika, who was found unresponsive in his cell Oct. 20, and 61-year-old Edison Legaspi, who was found dead on his bunk Oct. 29 — both tested positive for COVID-19 after their deaths, but the medical examiner ruled it wasn’t the cause of their deaths.

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Both had pre-existing conditions, including hypertension, obesity and diabetes.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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